SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Last year, teachers throughout elementary, middle, and high schools received a Legislature-approved raise. Now, lawmakers are debating a boost for college and university teachers.

House Bill 417, sponsored by a group of Democratic lawmakers, would set a minimum salary for full-time and adjunct college faculty. The bill would require public (state) colleges and universities to pay at least $78,000 for a full time, yearly contract with a faculty member.

Bill supporters are framing it as a way to right an existing issue in higher education: the use of underpaid and overworked faculty.

“The exploitation of adjuncts is not just a New Mexican problem, it’s a national problem” Ernesto Longa, a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law, told the House Education Committee on Monday, March 6. “By enacting HB 417, New Mexico could lead the nation in defining what a living wage should be for public educators working at post-secondary institutions.”

Longa noted that the bill could help thousands of faculty members, both full-time and adjunct, across the state. And Longa noted that the cost to the state would be relatively small, given the current massive budget surplus. The bill would include a yearly $30 million payout from the state’s general fund to pay for the increases. Experts in Monday’s committee meeting said on average, more than 50 percent of faculty on these campuses are adjunct.

Some legislators expressed support for the idea of giving adjunct faculty a living wage. “I think we are in grave danger of losing our university faculty, adjunct faculty, if we don’t really step up to the plate like we did with teachers you know to give them a salary increase and we did with educational assistants,” said Representative Susan Herrera (D-Embudo).

Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque) also calling the situation exploitative of these educators, a source of ‘historical negligence’ and ’embarrassing.’

But not everyone was completely on board with the details of the bill.

“You know that I support public education,” said Representative Brian G. Baca (R-Los Lunas & Bosque Farms). But Baca was concerned that the bill could hurt students: “the university is going to have to make up these costs somewhere and that may be passed along to our students.”

Representative Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell) also questioned how sustainable this funding really is.

Monday, the House Education Committee was split on the idea. Half of the members voted in favor of the bill, and half voted against. So, that means the bill is stuck in the committee for now.