Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new initiative Wednesday called Supporting Teachers and Families (STAF), where state workers and National Guard members are encouraged to volunteer becoming licensed substitute teachers and/or licensed child care workers.

According to a press release, this is to help support New Mexico schools and child care settings that are facing staffing shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative encourages state workers and National Guard members to volunteer to become licensed as substitute pre-K-12 teachers and/or child care workers and work where they are needed to keep doors open for in-person learning and child care. 

All volunteers must fulfill the same requirements as regular substitute teachers and child care workers, including undergoing a background check and completing an online substitute teaching workshop through the Public Education Department for individuals applying to work in schools, per the release. 

The state will also ensure school needs and the state are balanced to ensure state services are not affected by this effort, the release said.

“Our schools are a critical source of stability for our kids – we know they learn better in the classroom and thrive among their peers,” Lujan Grisham said in the release. “Our kids, our teachers and our parents deserve as much stability as we can provide during this time of uncertainty, and the state stands ready to help keep kids in the classroom, parents able to go to work and teachers able to fully focus on the critical work they do every single day in educating the next generation.”

The release said by bringing multiple agencies and school districts together to facilitate licensure processes, the initiative will allow state workers to use administrative leave to work in schools and child care programs that may be experiencing staffing shortages. 

“We’ve heard from multiple districts that a lack of substitute teachers is among the most critical staffing issues right now, and they’ve asked for the state’s support,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said in the release. “This is state government at its best, and we are ready to step up to support our teachers, who have been on the front lines of the pandemic for nearly two years now, by increasing the state’s pool of substitute teachers.”