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Some states raise teachers’ pay amid pandemic shortages, but can they keep educators?

Jamie Torres spent the first three years of her teaching career “practically homeless.” Her $38,000 starting salary in 2018 wasn’t enough to pay the rent in nearby neighborhoods where she teaches in Sante Fe, New Mexico, so she lived with family members for months. or stay with friends.

“I tried searching everywhere to find a house. The lowest I could find for even a studio in Santa Fe at the time was around $1,300,” she said. “So with my first year teaching salary, I as an adult can’t literally afford rent in Santa Fe.”

Torres, a special education teacher, is one of hundreds of educators across Sante Fe whose wages are set to rise this year after New Mexico lawmakers voted to raise teachers’ pay. Her salary will increase by 20%, from $50,000 to $60,000, she said, calling the increase “definitely a really good first step.”

As the pandemic has disrupted schools across the United States and teacher shortages have posed their need for higher wages and better working conditions, several states have approved wage increases, including some of the biggest states for many years. In addition to New Mexico, Alabama and Mississippi have also recently passed bills that raise teacher salaries by thousands of dollars.

This increase comes with hopes of recruiting and retaining teachers and combating teacher shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.

But while teachers say they are grateful for the raise, some wonder if the raise will be enough to keep teachers feeling exhausted, disrespected and as if their concerns are not enough. have they been ignored for years or not. Some, like Torres, said the pay increase was a much-needed start to a broader conversation about what can be done to support teachers, including through policy changes to do For housing, health care and childcare services become more affordable and accessible.

“This raise will help raise awareness, but it won’t change everything,” says Torres.

Last month, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill her office said in a news release would increase the base salary for teachers in the state by an average of 20 percent.

The bill increases the minimum wages for educators from $10,000 to $50,000, $60,000 and $70,000.

The governor said at the time, teachers must be paid a salary that is commensurate with “experience, education, and the fact that they are working more than full-time to support their students.”

For some teachers in New Mexico, especially those in urban areas like Santa Fe, who are facing record inflation every time they go to the gas station or grocery store, the level increase may not be far enough.

Based on ZumperA real estate analytics firm, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Fe is $1,666, up 40% from a year ago.

“We couldn’t pay the rent or mortgage nor the gas and food prices,” said Grace Mayer, a middle school art teacher and president of the National Education Association in Santa Fe. . “I am concerned that it will not retain the teachers. I was concerned that it didn’t go far enough because we were short. And I fear our more experienced employees are about to retire.”

Resignations and retirements have increased in schools across the country, at least in part, due to the ongoing Covid pandemic. As of January, 44% of schools said there was at least one teaching vacancy and nearly half had at least one staff vacancy, according to data published last month of the National Center for Education Statistics of the Ministry of Education. The data shows that more than half of those vacancies are due to resignations.

Nancy Messer, an education and training instructor in Alabama, hailed the state’s recent pay increase as an acknowledgment of the hard work they have to do.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill approving a pay increase for teachers earlier this month. Depending on the teacher’s experience, salary increases range from 4 percent to about 21 percent.

It’s a “fairly substantial pay raise for many of us and it’s much needed,” Messer said. “Teachers have felt undervalued for a long time based on our salaries and what we do every day and what teachers mean to our society.”

But even with this push, “teachers will still have to live on a budget,” she said.

Many teachers have already received second or side jobs, “and this could help ease some of the economic burden, especially with inflation and the rising overall cost of living.” she said. “The raise will help us for now, but we’re definitely not ahead of the game.”

Lisa Toney, a first-grade teacher in Birmingham with more than 30 years of experience, says she takes three or four extra jobs “to try to survive” and hopes the pay rise will help her cut one or two jobs in the future. that number. She also hopes the money will improve her credit score, as she will have more money to pay all her bills.

“It will help increase gas prices. It will help fight inflation and food,” she said.

It remains to be seen whether the increase will also be enough to help with recruitment and retention.

In Mississippi, some teachers cross the border to work where they can sometimes make $5,000 to $10,000 more, said Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill last month that would allow teachers to raise their salaries by about $5,100 on average, increasing wages for some teachers by more than 10% in the biggest pay hike for teachers in the state in many decade. Starting salaries for teachers with bachelor’s degrees will increase from $37,000 to $41,500 under the new law, and teachers with more experience will receive more.

Jones called the raise “timely.”

“I hope that it keeps our educators here in Mississippi, inside their classrooms,” she said.

But Geraldine Bender, president of the Mississippi Federation of American Teachers, said that despite its historic nature, the raise “still hasn’t brought them to the salaries they should have earned as teachers.” .

“It would be helpful, but it wouldn’t force them to balance their checkbook differently,” she said.

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