She calls for $11.3 million to reward outstanding teachers
Gov. Susana Martinez proposed Thursday that the state increase funding for public schools by $101 million this year. More than $11 million would go toward merit pay for outstanding teachers.
Martinez’s budget plan totals $5.88 billion, identical to the amount that the Legislative Finance Committee recommended earlier this week.
But the Republican governor’s proposal does not contain raises for state employees. The finance committee is suggesting a 1 percent increase for them and for public school teachers.
State workers have not had a raise since 2008. Martinez said the time was not right for an across-the-board increase, given uncertainty about the federal budget that figures so heavily in New Mexico’s economy. Martinez said 400 government jobs were lost in New Mexico in November alone.
She said about 22,000 state workers would see a bit more take-home pay under her plan to increase state pension contributions by 1.5 percent. Employee payments into the program would be reduced by the same amount. The legislative proposal contained this same idea.
Martinez chose Piñon Elementary School in Santa Fe to outline her budget proposal, in part because many of her initiatives deal with education.
Overall, Martinez wants $2.54 billion for public schools. That would include the $101 million in increased spending.
About 70 percent of the increase for would pay for utility costs, to accommodate higher enrollment and to shift pension contributions from teachers to taxpayers.
The rest would be tied to academics.
Martinez proposes to spend $13.3 million on a statewide reading program to pinpoint and help struggling students in grades kindergarten through three. Legislators allocated $8.5 million for the program last year.
Another of the governor’s ideas is to spend almost $5 million on the state’s lowest-performing schools. New Mexico grades its more than 800 public schools on an A-F system.
A total of $2 million would pay for hiring math and science teachers in schools with the greatest need.
Merit pay for teachers is the other large portion of the increase.
But with a merit initiative, a superb teacher hired at the first-tier rate of $30,000 a year could be making $50,000 in four years, Skandera said. A yearly increase for a highly rated teacher could reach $7,500.
Ratings would be linked to student achievement on test scores, classroom evaluations and locally devised measures of teacher performance, she said.
A push for merit pay is likely to be contentious in the Legislature.
Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview that the state must focus on improving the whole system, not single out individual teachers for pay raises. If there is a wonderful success story in achievement, the whole school should share in the rewards because many people made it possible, Stewart said.
“The problem with the governor and the secretary is that they are not educators,” said Stewart, who was a teacher for 30 years.
In addition to education reforms, Martinez proposed to lower the state tax rate that large companies pay from 7.6 percent to 4.9 percent. She said this would make New Mexico more competitive with the rest of the region.
Like the legislative proposal, her budget plan also would add money to Medicaid and to the Department of Public Safety for vehicles and officer recruitment.
Martinez also wants to allocate another $2.5 million to the Department of Tourism for advertising in other markets, and $750,000 to the state Racing Commission so it can combat the doping of racehorses through more testing.