SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a statewide initiative on Wednesday, Jan. 19 that will provide support for schools by encouraging state workers and National Guard members to volunteer to become licensed pre-k teachers or childcare workers in an effort to keep doors open for in-person learning and child care.

“Parents and educators are going through a constant state of whiplash,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said at a press conference Wednesday. “And the entire country is facing incredible staffing shortages. We don’t want to be in a situation where schools aren’t engaged fully in in-person learning.” A Santa Fe mother of two and a local teacher explained how hard remote learning and the back-and-forth between in-person and remote classes have been.

“We must both work even though it is a struggle to do so. We struggle to make sure Liam is attending school virtually and doing his schoolwork,” said the mom.

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“Right now, to be here, I had to finagle where to find a sub with multiple teacher openings that require daily subs where we don’t have substitutes for normal things teachers have like getting sick, having appointments, sick kids,” said the New Mexico teacher.

The Supporting Teachers and Families (STAF) initiative will offer support to schools and childcare facilities as they are facing extreme staffing shortages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of positive cases. According to the Office of the Governor, all volunteers must fulfill the same requirements as regular substitute teachers and child care workers which includes undergoing a background check and completing an online substitute teaching workshop through PED for those applying to work in schools.

The program comes as many schools are being forced to transfer to online learning while childcare facilities must temporarily close when staff members test positive for COVID-19 or are identified as close contacts as they must isolate or quarantine for five days. Additionally, parents face added stresses as these circumstances result in missed workdays or having to search for childcare on short notice.

The Office of the Governor states that since winter break, about 60 school districts and charter schools have made the switch to remote learning. Since the start of the year, 75 child care centers have been forced to partially, or completely close due to staffing shortages.

In a news release from the Office of the Governor, the state reports that it will make sure the needs of schools and the state are balanced to ensure state services are not affected by this initiative. The program would bring multiple agencies and school districts together to allow licensure processes for substitute teachers and child care workers.

The governor repeatedly iterated that the schools will have the say in who works in what roles. “We’re not taking over [the schools],” she said. “And if some school districts don’t want the volunteers, that’s ok too,” she added.

The state sent a letter on Wednesday, asking for volunteers from state agencies and the New Mexico National Guard to take part in this initiative. The PED is reported to be allocating additional resources and working with districts and charter schools in an effort to streamline their licensure processes.

The governor announced that it takes just two days to get most people through the background check and training process. “That means schools that have no idea what they’re going to do, or childcare, on Monday, will have access to a new pool of individuals,” the governor said.

The PED Secretary estimates a statewide need for 800 to 900 substitute teachers. The governor’s goal is to reach 500 newly minted support staff members. The National Guard and workers from the state will likely make up the bulk of these. Principals will decide whether National Guard members will be in their uniforms or civilian clothes when helping out in the classroom; they will not be armed. In addition to teaching, the Guard members may also help schools with nursing needs and contact tracing.

Districts will not have to pay for the extra help in the classroom. State workers who participate will get paid administrative leave. National Guard members participating will be considered ‘active duty’ and be paid by the Guard. There is no extra incentive for people to participate but the governor said incentive options remain on the table going into the future. The implication is that perhaps incentives will be used if additional volunteers are needed.

An online application has been set up by the Early Childhood Education and Care Department for those who are interested in providing substitute support in childcare programs. The application fee to become licensed has been waived until March. The state said they hope this also encourages private citizens to step up to help.