ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some extra financial relief is coming to New Mexico educators. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a new law Thursday to cover more than half of health insurance premium costs for all New Mexico educators.
“We know this is a really good first step,” said Whitney Holland, New Mexico president of the American Federation of Teachers. “It didn’t do what we wanted it to do, ultimately, but we’re chipping away at some of the problems.”
Holland says the final version of the initiative is not the game-changer it was advertised as.
The governor originally proposed covering 100% of health insurance premiums during her state of the state address. State lawmakers lowered that amount to just 80% for educators making less than $50,000 a year, 70% for educators making $50,000-$60,000 a year, and 60% for educators making more than $60,000.
“A lot of our bigger districts, or ones that have stronger unions, stronger collective bargaining, already have that or higher,” Holland said. “The feedback we’re hearing is it doesn’t impact them as much as they thought it would back in January.”
Holland says educators in some of the state’s major school districts – including Albuquerque Public Schools – will likely not see any change in their monthly contributions.
It’s a different story in rural New Mexico.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Barbara Garcia.
Garcia is an educational assistant for Belen Consolidated Schools. She’s been footing the health insurance bill for her family for nearly two decades, and she knows the monthly deductions can sting.
“When you get paid, and you see your check, and you see the deduction for healthcare, you’re like, Oh, my God, that’s almost, you know, $400 out of your paycheck,” she said. “With the extra money, you know, maybe I can save it for my retirement, I can invest in something before it’s time for me to retire.”
Garcia says she is thankful for the extra relief. She believes it will be an incentive for new and current teachers across the state. Holland added lowering teachers’ health insurance contributions will also bolster recruitment efforts statewide.
“NEA New Mexico surveyed their members and that was one of the top issues is. They don’t want to go into teaching because of the healthcare,” she said. “I think the more we chip away at this, the more we’re going to see the payoff.”
State lawmakers set aside $32 million in the state budget to cover the health insurance initiative. The budget also includes funding for an average 6% raise for all New Mexico teachers and to increase educational assistant salaries to $25,000.
Republican lawmakers were critical of the increased spending during the legislative session. Some argued previous education investments have not led to higher academic performance scores. Holland is asking for patience.
“We’re not going to see results right away with kids, we’re not going to see instant gratification, but we’re going to see graduation rates hopefully improve, we’re going to see kids want to stay in school, we’re going to see kids who are passionate and learn about those passions in school, whether that’s through CTE or other pathways,” she said. “So just putting that trust in us in that partnership, we’re gonna see results, it just might not be right away.”
The state’s health insurance premium initiative is set to begin on July 1.