SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Bills that would increase pay for educators and improve the retirement funds have passed their first committee, the Senate Education Committee. Senate Bill 1 would increase minimum salaries for teachers on the three-tier licensure system by $10,000. Some lawmakers questioned how the raises should be handled.

“My biggest concern with adjusting it is, I’m a huge supporter of local control,” said Republican Senator Craig Brandt. “In some areas, they may not need to pay as much for one area of teacher, because they need to put that money into a harder area to recruit for,” said Brandt.

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Sen. Brandt says he supports increasing teacher pay but he’s unsure if a teacher’s minimum salary should be law. He says requiring a district to pay these minimums would force them to shift funding around and could deduct from recruitment bonuses, making it harder to fill certain positions. Senator Mimi Stewart says the funding is there.

“You have to remember these 89 districts received $900-million from the federal government through ARPA funds,” said Sen. Stewart. “They can use that for signing bonuses, for hard to staff.”

Sen. Brandt argued that ARPA funding is only one-time funding, saying districts can’t count on that in the long term. Despite those concerns, lawmakers in the Senate Education Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill. It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

If approved, all teachers would get at least a 7% raise which would mean a new teacher’s starting pay would be about $50,000.

Senate Bill 36 would improve the teacher retirement fund. Teachers say many educators have left teaching due to challenges brought on by the pandemic and the raise is needed to recruit qualified teachers and keep the ones we have from leaving to other states.

“Through this bill, we have the opportunity to really value and continue to value the expertise that we bring to the state as teachers and to increase competitiveness with other states and other professions. Because currently, the average teacher salary is less than Colorado, Arizona, and Texas,” said New Mexico International School teacher, Alisa Cooper de Uribe.

While these bills have passed the first hurdle, there is concern about where all the money to do this will come from.