SANTA FE — More than 600 New Mexico teachers will have their student debt burden reduced thanks to the state’s Teacher Loan Repayment Program administered by the New Mexico Higher Education Department.
The Teacher Loan Repayment program pays up to $6,000 per year for two years toward outstanding federal student loan debt and interest for licensed New Mexico teachers working in high-need areas and schools.
The agency received nearly 500 new applications for the program in 2021, three times as many who applied in 2020. Awards will also be renewed for another 140 recipients from last year. The department submitted a budget adjustment request to the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration to ensure that all eligible applicants can benefit from the program this year and is seeking $5 million to fully fund applicants in FY23.
“Whether you are a veteran teacher still paying off debt, or a recent high school graduate interested in a teaching career in New Mexico, our teacher loan repayment and scholarship programs are critical in supporting New Mexicans entering the education profession and in addressing shortages across our state,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “We are working alongside Gov. Lujan Grisham, our sister education agencies, and legislators to ensure these programs are supported at a level that reflects New Mexico’s workforce needs today while supporting educators.”
“The Teacher Loan Repayment Program tells New Mexicans who want a career in the classroom that we want to help you get there,” Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said. “We have a serious shortage of well-trained teachers in New Mexico and across the country, so a program like this that smooths the path to the classroom is a great move, and we’re grateful to Gov. Lujan Grisham and the Legislature for supporting it.”
“Early childhood educators play a critical role in ensuring our state’s littlest learners arrive at Kindergarten equipped with the cognitive, language, and social-emotional skills they need to succeed,” said Early Childhood Education and Care Department cabinet secretary Elizabeth Groginsky. “We urgently need more early childhood educators to teach and care for New Mexico’s young children, and alleviating student loan burdens is a fantastic way to improve retention and attract new people to the career.”
Recipient teachers work in high-need areas, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), career technical education, bilingual education, early childhood education, special education, and those teaching in schools with free and reduced lunch programs. Recipients also agree to a two-year teaching commitment while benefitting from the program and can apply to renew the award every two years if they continue to meet eligibility criteria. Preference is also given to teachers who graduate from a New Mexico college or university and to teachers from historically underrepresented groups.
“Initiatives like the Teacher Loan Repayment Program are a critical tool to not only recruit educators into our profession, but also retain our veteran educators. We are excited to deepen our engagement with Secretary Rodriguez and the New Mexico Higher Education Department to ensure all educators in New Mexico are fully benefitting from opportunities to reduce student loans and help relieve the pressures of America’s student debt crisis,” said American Federation of Teachers New Mexico President Whitney Holland.
“We represent thousands of teachers across the state, and we are thrilled to see such a significant increase in the number of teachers applying,” said National Education Association New Mexico President Mary Parr-Sanchez. “We know that helping lift the financial burden off teachers is very important given all the difficulty that students and teachers have been through during this pandemic. We want to do everything we can as a state to attract and retain high quality educators so that our students are not left behind.”
The Teacher Loan Repayment Program has been a lifeline for veteran teachers who attained degrees before the New Mexico Lottery, Opportunity, and other state teacher scholarships became available, and those seeking advanced degrees. This year’s recipients represent 66 public school districts across the state. The average amount of debt held by teachers participating in the program this year is over $48,000.
Jackie Reddy is a special education teacher at Animas Elementary School in Farmington who has been in the profession for 21 years and has over $100,000 in outstanding student loan debt. Reddy started her degree in her late 20s, relocated from another state, and was ineligible for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship. After receiving the maximum benefit from the Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, the New Mexico Teacher Loan Repayment Program was her only option.
“Special education is my passion, but I’m a single mother with a child who is severely disabled, and any part of my paycheck that doesn’t go to the loans goes toward caring for him and paying off my house,” Reddy said. “This means that I can finally focus on that and do some house repairs that have been needed for years.”
In addition to the Teacher Loan Repayment Program, the New Mexico Higher Education Department administers the Teacher Preparation Affordability and Grow Your Own Teachers scholarships, which support students actively pursuing degrees leading to teacher licensure at any public or Tribal college or university in New Mexico.
Students can combine these scholarships with the New Mexico Opportunity and Lottery Scholarships to earn degrees in teacher education debt-free. Increased funding for each of these programs has been included in the higher education budget request in FY23, which was presented to the Legislative Finance and Legislative Education Study Committees this month.
To learn more about the many programs available for teachers and all New Mexicans to attend college debt-free, visit www.freecollegenm.org.