Big challenges call for big ideas. New Mexicans must not only think big, but also act to create generational change. For example, the quality of life in New Mexico cannot improve unless the shortage of teachers and nurses is addressed. We often talk about a shortage, but we haven’t done anything to close that gap for decades. Now is our chance to make real generational change to improve our health care and education systems.
The teacher shortage is visible and felt in all facets of students’ daily lives. The shortage creates larger classes, fewer electives, and combined grades in more rural and tribal areas. The steps New Mexico recently took to help alleviate the teacher shortage works on paper, but they haven’t helped teachers come into the classroom feeling prepared.
Recent data from the New Mexico Department of Public Education shows that more and more teachers are entering the classroom with a bachelor’s degree but without formal teacher training. They are equipped with the knowledge of the important topics, but not with how to handle the rigors of a demanding and critical job. These people drop out at much higher rates than traditionally trained teachers.
At the end of 2020, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions cited more than 6,200 jobs for RNs. The latest data from the department predicts that by 2030, more than 1,200 annual job openings for registered nurses in New Mexico and not enough new hires to replace those retiring or moving to another profession.
We must seize the opportunity to keep New Mexicans in the state while building careers and improving education and health care systems in rural, tribal and urban areas. To reduce the shortage in these two crucial professions, New Mexico must recruit and train local residents now and for generations to come. New Mexicans know our state, already care about their neighbors and friends, and are more likely to stay here and not stray away for other opportunities if the state is resourceful in creating those opportunities.
To encourage this training, New Mexico must find a way to secure a grant program that would allow qualified residents to receive tuition and free fees, respectively, for teacher training and nursing. The graduate student would be required to stay in the state for at least two years and work in a qualified location. The state would work with industry to secure placement. This investment would pay dividends for future workforce development, quality education and health care.
Recurring revenue for fiscal 2023 is expected to reach an all-time high of $ 8.8 billion, with nearly $ 1.4 billion in new money. The new dollars are being generated by a diversifying economy, recovering oil and gas markets and higher than expected gross revenue and income tax collection.
This new money must be invested wisely to ensure that our condition continues to improve and grow. Investing in our teachers and our health system not only generates quality workforce development, but also relieves the burden of already taxed systems. New Mexicans of all ages deserve better. This is our chance to provide them with that.
Senator George Muñoz is the finance chairman of the New Mexico Senate. A lifelong New Mexico resident, he is a husband, father and business owner in Gallup.