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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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A recent study on the best and worst places for teachers conducted by WalletHub has ranked New Mexico as the 10th worst state for teachers. Why is that? The COVID pandemic, low salaries and other pandemic-related challenges like online teaching have made teaching one of the most difficult occupations in the United States.

Salaries and work environments vary drastically by state, with teachers in New York commanding the highest average salary at over $87,000, while teachers in Mississippi have the lowest average salary at just over $46,000. According to the National Education Association, New Mexico ranks 32nd for average salaries, with New Mexico educators commanding an average salary of $54,000.

The WalletHub study says where New Mexico falters the most is the quality of the state’s education system. Their study ranks New Mexico dead last at 51st for the quality of our education system. This can be attributed to the state’s rural character and high poverty rate. According to U.S. News & World Report, New Mexico has the third-highest poverty rate in the nation, standing at over 18 percent of the state’s population. 

Despite New Mexico’s abysmal ranking in the quality of its public school system, the state has made significant strides in investing in education. According to WalletHub, New Mexico ranks 31st in pupil-to-teacher ratio, 31st in public spending per student and 18th in projected competition in the 2028 fiscal year. The pandemic has also placed pressure on the state’s digital learning capacity, and even with the state’s rural and isolated character, New Mexico ranked 33rd in its existence of a digital learning plan.  

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has made investing in New Mexico’s education one of her administration’s top priorities after years of ranking as one of the worst in the nation. In 2019 the governor signed a nearly 12 percent increase in pay for teachers. The governor also oversaw a drastic increase in the state’s spending on education, from $446 million to over $3.2 billion this year. 

N.M. Senator Martin Heinrich has also pushed for increased investment in the state’s education system. “I want to do everything I can to support a successful school year in New Mexico. As part of the American Rescue Plan that Congress passed earlier this year, I was proud to secure over $1 billion in emergency federal funding for New Mexico’s K-12 public schools. A large share of that funding went directly to local school districts to help them address the specific needs of their students, their educators and their communities,” Heinrich said.

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