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NEA News

How Art Plus Activism Led to Teacher Pay Raises in New Mexico

First, they printed and painted. Then, educators and parents carried their artwork-with-a-message to the state Capitol where it helped to convince lawmakers to boost teacher pay by $10,000!
new mexico artbuild Joe Brusky / Art Build Workers
Published: 02/22/2022

Key Takeaways

  1. Last year, teacher pay in New Mexico ranked 19th in the nation. Is it surprising the state still had 1,000 teacher vacancies this winter?
  2. New Mexico educators have had enough. In January, they encircled the state's Round House—the state capitol—and demanded legislators invest in students and educators.
  3. They were heard! In March, the governor signed pay raises into law, boosting new teacher pay from $40K to $50K and the highest tier from $60K to $70K. Every educator is guaranteed at least a 7 percent raise.

“It’s beautiful—but it’s also saying something,” says NEA Santa Fe President Grace Mayer of the artful signs and banners created last month by educators, parents, and students during a local art build.

Led by the Milwaukee-based Art Build Workers (ABW), dozens of Santa Fe educators, parents, and students first brainstormed slogans on local issues, like how it’s impossible for educators to afford the city’s housing prices. (In other words, “Teachers need the pay to stay!”)

Then, they came together to print and paint hundreds of banners, wielding an iconic New Mexico shade of turquoise. The process was cathartic and empowering, notes Mayer, who is also an art teacher. “It can be uplifting to express yourself,” she says.

But the value of the art build, which was funded through an NEA grant, didn’t end when the paint dried. In January, educators, including NEA President Becky Pringle, carried the artwork to an NEA-New Mexico rally at the state Capitol, where they demanded legislators invest in students and educators. Halfway through the school year, New Mexico still has 1,000 teacher vacancies, meaning 20,000 students don’t have a full-time, experienced teacher.

Lawmakers got the message. In February, they voted to raise teacher pay by $10,000—from $40,000 to $50,000 for new teachers and $60,000 to $70,000 for the most experienced, while also guaranteeing 7 percent raises for all school employees. In both the state House and Senate, not a single lawmaker—of any political party— voted against the raises. On March 1, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the raises into law.

“I could feel the power of our members and supporters—and clearly New Mexico lawmakers could too!” says Pringle.

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.