ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico’s governor wants the state to pay for more teacher pay raises, universal early childhood education and college for every resident.
Much of what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had to say Wednesday evening at a community town hall of education was well-received by the few hundreds of people, many of them educators and about 20 state legislators.
Lujan Grisham brought her trio of education gurus —Early Childhood Education and Care Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart and Higher Education Secretary Kate O-Neill.
“As long as I’m lucky enough to have this job, education is a priority,” Lujan Grisham said before the three-hour town hall concluded.
Lujan Grisham asked to see hands of educators who’d been in their classrooms earlier that day before venturing out to the new Albuquerque Public Schools Berna Facio Professional Development Complex in the Northeast Heights.
“We need you,” she said. “This vocation — what folks really want — is respect.”
Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland has been saying the same thing for a few years.
“We don’t respect the men and women who make the biggest difference in the lives of our families,” Lujan Grisham said. “That makes no sense to me, and what we’re working to do diligently is restore credibility, trust and faith, and make it very clear we have absolute and the utmost respect for every, single educator and every, single person working in public education.
“We might have … disagreements, all professional, about which strategies work, but no strategy is effective if you don’t provide the tools and resources in public education that allow you to harness those opportunities,” she said. “That’s clear.”
Also clear, she said, was that education isn’t “one size fits all.”
“We have to think about every, single strategy,” she said. “Schools need flexibility while being accountable to meet the needs of students.
“So the single largest investment in one year has been made by the New Mexico State Legislature: $446 million, and that is a step toward our ‘moon shot,'” she said.
Lujan Grisham said it was important to “invest in our children and turn this state around.”
The governor touted the recent 6 percent raise for educators, but said more was necessary. She also heard about the need for higher pay for early childhood educators in Otero County.
Lujan Grisham, knowing there’s a lack of qualified teachers throughout the state, wanted to see “a pipeline and a pathway for educators … We need to create the kinds of pathways that don’t burden or penalize you for becoming an educator.”
She said the state would pay for educators’ professional development.
Also important was more money for early childhood learning, and Lujan Grisham suggested the legislature invest “$300 million in a one-time appropriation into a fund and we keep finding vehicles to put money into the fund so that in short order, we get to universal, early-childhood education; that’s 18,000 3-year-olds.”
There was “one more big-ticket item”: Government-funded college for everyone in New Mexico.
Lujan Grisham said $35 million would be set aside for 55,000 state students to go to college.
“We are paying for these public-education institutions, (and) they are well worth it. Why don’t we let that benefit get right to the person who needs it the most: the student?”
With many families having single parents and/or living near or below the poverty level, she said, “We have to meet the needs of the whole family.”