by Isaac Rivas-Savell │Thursday, February 15th, 2018
Several lawmakers this session were working hard to table (aka kill) bills that would benefit teachers and students. It’s the kind of political power maneuvering that I had hoped was not happening in Santa Fe, and certainly was never exposed to as a 5th grade teacher in Eunice.
Over and over I have watched many key legislators – that New Mexico’s teachers and citizens have ostensibly elected to represent their best interests – work hard to table bills that would ultimately elevate our profession and help students. It has left me feeling somewhat hopeless and quite frustrated.
Hopeless because the voice of the everyday New Mexico teacher is often brushed aside. Frustrated because it seems that party loyalty is regularly placed ahead of New Mexico’s students and teachers. Here are a couple of examples I’ve witnessed:
House Bill 310 was killed by Democratic lawmakers. It would have guaranteed a 2.5% pay raise for all teachers and put millions into teacher recruitment and mentoring. A proposal to amend the bill to also include mentoring was made by Rep. Sheryl Stapleton (D), which Secretary-Designate Ruszkowski immediately called “a good idea”.
House Bill 310 would have increased starting salaries for Level I teachers by $4,000 and Level II and III teachers by $2,000. The committee ultimately voted to table what would have been a historic teacher compensation bill. This pay bump is crucial to keep teachers like me in places such as Eunice instead of us moving across the border to Texas where there's more financial security.
As a native New Mexican, I taught in order to serve my community and provide the highest quality of education to kids from neighborhoods similar to those I grew up in down in Roswell. My roots kept me in New Mexico. But we know this isn't always enough to keep our top-performing teachers from pursuing opportunities elsewhere.
Then House Bill 177 was also killed by Democratic lawmakers, even though it would have given every teacher the opportunity to climb the ladder and make more money without having to spend time and resources going back to get their Master’s degree.
HB 177 would have provided Level II teachers a different pathway to achieve Level III status, without that expensive Master’s degree. This bill was actually created by and for New Mexico teachers from all over the state. It was overwhelmingly supported by 80% of Level II educators – but our legislators (on a 3-2 vote) chose to table it.
And still: “I move to table this bill.” “I second the motion.”
Yet again, a familiar chorus echoes through the Roundhouse and our teachers are not given the opportunity to aim higher, to do better, and to reach further for our students.
To make matters worse, New Mexico’s largest teachers’ unions – the NEA and AFT who are supposed to be standing up for us as teachers (not to mention our students) – oppose many, if not all, of the bills that would actually elevate our profession and improve student achievement.
When will enough be enough? What will it take for every Legislator to represent their most important constituency—our students—as various legislation hits their desk?
As much as seeing the legislative (political) process has drained me of my idealism, angered, disappointed, and frustrated me, it must be said that the door to the Roundhouse is wide open.
It’s supposed to be the peoples’ house—and it is incumbent upon me and us to ensure that the voices of all teachers, and the voices of children, are represented with fervor.
As a classroom teacher, I had a very narrow focus. I never allowed myself to look beyond the scope of work I was doing with my students. I rarely thought of myself entering the world of policy that would force me to leave the confines of my classroom. And I reluctantly took a leave from my classroom.
New Mexico is vastly rural, and for far too long, there has been a monopoly on teacher voice in this state. There is room for more than one teacher voice in New Mexico, and I want to be part of making our public education system stronger.
Now, I move that we pass a motion to stop tabling our teachers and kids in New Mexico! Do I have a second for this motion?
Isaac Rivas-Savell - Teacher Liaison
Isaac was a classroom teacher for 11 years before joining the New Mexico Public Education Department as a Teacher Liaison. Teacher Liaisons work to improve communication between the Public Education Department and over 700 teacher leaders to equip, empower, and champion New Mexico teachers.