Governor to tap federal funds to raise wages for early childhood workers

Alix Hudson, a teacher at El Camino Real Academy in Santa Fe, interacts with a student in this March 2021 file photo. New Mexico childcare workers may be eligible for $3 pay supplements l hour under a program announced Thursday by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. (Eddie Moore/Diary)

SANTA FE — New Mexico childcare workers could see their pay levels increase by more than $6,000 a year, under a plan released by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham that will use federal relief funds — at least for now — to pay for salary increases.

The plan announced Thursday aims to raise the base salary of entry-level early childhood workers to $15 an hour – it would be around $20 an hour for more experienced teachers – and bolster retention efforts and recruiting as the Lujan Grisham administration seeks to establish universal pre-kindergarten statewide.

“Childhood workers have historically been underpaid relative to the importance of the work they do,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “We must attract and retain the best talent to ensure that the youngest New Mexicans receive the high quality early education they deserve.”

The initial $77 million to provide the $3-per-hour wage supplements to between 13,000 and 16,000 licensed child care center workers will come from federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, the office said. of the governor.

Once that funding runs out, the money to keep the increases in place could come from other federal dollars, a recently created state early childhood trust fund, or increased distributions from the Fund. New Mexico’s permanent land grant fund, said Micah, spokesperson for the Department of Early Childhood Education and Care. McCoy.

Voters across the state will decide in November whether or not to approve a constitutional amendment to allocate more money from the permanent fund, which is currently valued at around $25 billion, for early childhood programs and K-schools. -12 and teachers’ salaries.

“We believe there are opportunities to fund these great initiatives in the future,” McCoy told the Journal.

As the state Supreme Court sided with lawmakers last year in a dispute with the governor’s office over spending authority for federal pandemic relief funds, Lujan’s spokeswoman Grisham, Nora Meyers Sackett, said the planned wage supplements would not require legislative approval.

That’s because the money was specifically allocated under the federal program to states for spending on child care programs and helping low-income families, Sackett said.

Like other states, New Mexico has seen many child care centers close and workers have been forced to seek other jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, although the number of licensed child care centers has increased in recent months to closer to pre-pandemic levels, McCoy says.

There are currently 951 licensed child care centers in the state.

Under the Lujan Grisham administration’s plan, the wage increases would operate like a subsidy program. Starting Nov. 1, daycare owners or directors could apply to the state for funds to provide the raises to their employees.

Elizabeth Groginsky, Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Early Childhood Education and Care, said many child care providers have struggled to staff their classrooms to full capacity amid a growing inflation.

“We are in a situation where the market cannot support the salaries that attract the skilled professionals we rely on to educate and nurture our children during their most important developmental years,” she said, explaining the supplements. wages.

Several leaders of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, or OLÉ, a nonprofit group that financially supported the proposed constitutional amendment, welcomed the governor’s announcement on Thursday, with one leader, Ivydel Natachu, saying the t used to pay women of color. low wages to take care of children.

Meanwhile, raising wages for child care workers is just part of a multi-pronged effort to expand New Mexico’s child care system.

In May, the state launched a program offering stipends of up to $2,000 per semester to students enrolled in early childhood education programs at state colleges and universities.

And the Lujan Grisham administration last year raised New Mexico’s income eligibility threshold for child care assistance to the highest level in the nation, meaning families can get services. free child care if they are up to 400% of the federal poverty level – currently $111,000 per year for a family of four.

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