New Mexico is the first state in the nation to ask National Guard troops to serve as substitute teachers as preschools and K-12 public schools struggle to keep classrooms open amid surging COVID-19 infections.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday announced the “Supporting Teachers and Families” initiative requesting that the National Guard help address the state’s teaching crisis as substitute and day care teachers. She is also asking state bureaucrats to volunteer to serve.
The state is looking to deploy 500 teachers.
“We’ve determined that we have enough state employees, with the volunteer support with the Guard, to get to that 500 fairly readily, and that’s just looking at key departments like the education department and veterans department,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference on the steps of a vacant high school in Santa Fe.
New Mexico has been struggling for years to recruit and retain educators, leaving teaching routinely to long-term substitutes who do not have full teaching credentials.
Members of the Guard will serve on active duty, drawing their usual pay. State workers who teach in classrooms will get marked as paid leave that doesn’t subtract from individual vacation allotments.
State public education officials say volunteers from the National Guard and state agencies can qualify for substitute teaching with as little as two hours of training and a two-step background check. The state’s public education department said it will work to expedite background checks and waive application fees for substitute teacher training until the end of March.
School districts will decide whether military personnel appear in uniform or casual dress.
Last year, Massachusetts mobilized its National Guard, first to support COVID-19 testing on school campuses, then to drive school buses. On Tuesday, Oklahoma allowed state workers to volunteer as school substitutes while continuing to receive their salaries.