- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2020

ESPANOLA, N.M. (AP) - A northern New Mexico school board is calling a statewide teacher shortage that is hitting the region especially hard a “public health emergency.”

Española Public Schools made the assertion earlier this month about the dearth of qualified classroom teachers and urged Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to make that same declaration formally, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

On Jan. 15, the Española school board passed a resolution that calls on the governor to address urgent needs that contribute to the teacher shortage, such as teacher pay and the system in place to develop young teachers at the state’s colleges and universities

The resolution also encourages New Mexico’s congressional delegation and state lawmakers who convened last week for this year’s 30-day legislative session “to take every action required to abate the emergency.”

Citing statistics from the state Public Education Department that say there are more than 2,100 unfilled teaching positions in the state, the resolution states that the failure to properly educate children “leaves communities vulnerable to economic decline, and results in a failure of human capital cutting across professional boundaries throughout New Mexico.”

A spokesman for the governor didn’t directly answer whether Lujan Grisham would go so far as to declare a public health emergency.

“As discussed at length in her speech Tuesday and in her executive budget recommendation, we’re moving aggressively toward rebuilding educator support systems, rapidly increasing educator pay, and improving recruitment and retention, among many other initiatives that will address the educator shortage,” spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.

Lauren Reichelt, director of the Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services Department, spearheaded the resolution.

“The social determinants of health are affected very much by children not having the resources they need, and one of the most important resources is our public schools,” Reichelt said. “In a community like ours, that’s where they build their life skills. And if we don’t have real teachers in the classroom, how are we going to produce nurses, doctors, police officers and all the people who work up at the lab?”

The lab, of course, is Los Alamos National Laboratory, a powerful economic engine and source of jobs in the area. And the reference to “real teachers” is in contrast to substitute teachers, teaching assistants and others with so-called “alternative” teaching licenses who often lack formal teacher training.

A version of the resolution approved by the Española school board was endorsed by the Rio Arriba Health Council earlier this month.

A recent analysis by the Center for American Progress shows that, since 2010, enrollment in teacher prep programs declined by one-third nationwide. New Mexico, perpetually near the bottom in education rankings, is one of nine states that experienced a 50% enrollment drop.

As a stop-gap measure to address the teacher shortage, New Mexico passed legislation that allowed people with any college degree to obtain alternative licensure without having to go through a full teacher preparation program.

“It’s scary when you look at 20 years ago. We would have like 150 teachers, and now we have 50,” Susan Brown, interim dean of New Mexico State University’s college of education, told the Journal last month. “It’s so low, and that’s why we have all these vacancies.”

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