New Mexico Asks National Guard to Fill in for Teachers

Governor says she is volunteering as well
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2022 6:33 AM CST
New Mexico Asks National Guard to Work as Substitute Teachers
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, speaking at Santa Fe High School, announces efforts to temporarily employ National Guard troops and state bureaucrats as substitute teachers and preschool caregivers.   (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

National Guard members in New Mexico are being asked to volunteer for an unprecedented role: serving as substitute teachers and child care workers as the state struggles with staff shortages caused by surging COVID infections. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that Guard members and state government employees—including herself—could be in classrooms as soon as next week, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. "I expect that by the weekend I will be cleared, and I will be available to support a school anywhere," she said. The governor's office says applications and training for substitute teacher and child care roles is available online and the licensing process, including a background check, should only take a few days, KOB reports.

The governor said in-person learning is "critical" for students. "Parents and educators are going through a constant state of whiplash," with COVID-related staff shortages making it unclear whether schools will be open from one day to the next, she said. State officials said Wednesday that National Guard members deployed to schools will not be armed, and it will be up to principals whether they are in uniform or not. The governor's office says Guard members will be on active duty, drawing their usual pay, and state employees sent to schools or child care centers will be on paid leave that won't affect their vacation time.

Since the start of the year, dozens of child care centers, school districts, and charter schools in New Mexico have closed as COVID case numbers hit record highs. New Mexico, which was already short of teachers before the pandemic, is the first state to bring National Guard members into classrooms, though Massachusetts called in the Guard during a shortage of school bus drivers last year, reports the AP. The state legislature is looking into a longer-term fix for the teacher shortage, with proposals including a minimum 7% pay increase for all public school staff and a plan to pay off teachers' student loans. (More New Mexico stories.)

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