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Education leaders discuss teacher retention issues in New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico has struggled for years to keep teachers on the job and while lawmakers have boosted pay, some say it’s not enough. Lawmakers are looking at how workload and class size are contributing to the teacher turnover problem. 

“Teacher turnover is pretty high, most recent estimates, estimate it at about 23 percent which is among the highest rates in the nation,” said Annie Armatage, Senior Policy Analyst II, LESC.     

Education leaders described a harsh reality to New Mexico lawmakers on Thursday, about just how tough it continues to be to keep teachers on the job. “Fewer and fewer teachers are remaining in their schools and districts from one year to the next. And that the average years of teacher experience have been decreasing from one year to the next,” said Armatage.       

The state is averaging around nearly 700 teacher vacancies in 2024. Tackling the topic at a meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, leaders from the New Mexico Public Education Department pointed to increasing teacher workload and large class sizes as factors leading to continued turnover, adding that addressing those problems isn’t cheap.      

“Let’s say you wanted to reduce classes by five students which would be substantial, we estimate it costs about 40 million just to pay for the additional staff that you would need to fill those classrooms,” said Sunny Liu, Principal Analyst, LFC. 

The attrition problem continues as the state has upped public school funding from $2.8 billion to $4.4 billion since 2019. 

While more funding is available for schools today, PED Secretary Arsenio Romero adds that reducing class sizes will take a far greater effort beyond funding to execute statewide. “What does lower class size mean? That might be the first definition. The next definition is do we have space across, which is square footage to be able to make that happen? And then the other is, it’s going to increase our staffing requirements and so how do we kind of massage all those conversations together,” said Secretary Arsenio Romero, Public Education Department. 

The PED also highlighted one idea on Thursday to help keep first-year teachers. The department cited some research showing that rookie teachers with mentors are more likely to return for a second year because those mentors can help first-years deal with the large workload. 

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