New Mexico budget proposal calls for new teacher pay hike

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Starting salaries for New Mexico public school teachers would rise by $2,000 to $36,000 under a budget request submitted Thursday to state lawmakers ahead of the next month's legislative session.

Education Secretary Hanna Skandera said the 6 percent pay increase would help New Mexico compete with school districts in neighboring states for new teachers.

The pay hike would apply to 3,700 new teachers in the fall of 2017 if funding is approved by the Legislature. An earlier effort by Gov. Susana Martinez's administration to boost base pay by $2,000 was approved by the Legislature during the 2015 session.

Skandera also urged members of the Legislative Finance Committee to add strategic salary increases for the state's top performing teachers.

A new proposal would select the state's 50 most effective teachers and award them each a $10,000 stipend. The budget proposal also would double spending for a major category of performance-based pay to $15 million.

New Mexico plans to spend $2.75 billion this fiscal year on early childhood education and public schools — equal to 44 percent of the state's budget.

For next year, the education department is seeking a 4.8 percent increase of $132 million.

In addition to higher introductory salaries, Skandera requested $1 million to establish a stipend designed to attract high-caliber college students to the teaching profession. Sophomores with a grade point average of 3.5 or higher and a minimum college admissions ACT score of 26 could qualify for the $15,000 stipend.

The funds would be disbursed during junior and senior years and the first year of teaching.

The current average ACT score for students training to be teachers is 19, Skandera said.

Several lawmakers voiced concern about the state's ability to retain experienced teachers and questioned whether the strategic salary increases and stipends would truly improve teaching.

Skandera said pay should be based on effective teaching before seniority.

"Once we've attracted them to the profession, the next question is how do we support them and ensure that they're as effective as possible in the classroom," she said. "At a certain point that is not a guarantee that there is a pay increase coming."

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