National Guard members and state workers are being encouraged to volunteer to become licensed substitute teachers and child care workers under a new initiative in New Mexico, the state's governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced Wednesday.
As the omicron variant continues to surge, schools and child care facilities are facing "extreme staffing shortages," the governor said. The new effort is called STAF, or Supporting Teachers and Families, and would help keep doors open for in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our kids, our teachers and our parents deserve as much stability as we can provide during this time of uncertainty, and the state stands ready to help keep kids in the classroom, parents able to go to work and teachers able to fully focus on the critical work they do every single day in educating the next generation," Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
State workers who sign up for the initiative and pass all the requirements, which include a background check and online workshops, are allowed to use administrative leave to take on these new roles. The State Personnel Office rules allow up to five consecutive days of paid administrative leave at a time, the governor's office confirmed to NPR. The state says it will balance the needs of schools and state services so there won't be disruptions as state employees take on teaching and child care worker roles.
New Mexico's goal is to prevent the back-and-forth between in-person and remote learning. Since winter break, about 60 school districts and charter schools have moved to remote learning and 75 child care centers have partly or completely closed because of staffing shortages.
"We've heard from multiple districts that a lack of substitute teachers is among the most critical staffing issues right now, and they've asked for the state's support," Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said. "We are ready to step up to support our teachers, who have been on the front lines of the pandemic for nearly two years now, by increasing the state's pool of substitute teachers."
State governments across the country are facing similar struggles and coming up with alternative ways to help staff schools. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that gives schools more flexibility in staffing decisions. In some states like Kansas, the requirements for being qualified to be a substitute teacher have lessened.
This week, Oklahoma's governor signed an executive order allowing state employees to work in schools as substitutes while retaining their regular jobs.