Community Engagement Speaker Series hosts NM public education secretary
The Community Engagement Speaker Series hosted New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, who provided an overview of the department and his role, shared insight into the state of education in New Mexico, discussed outcomes of the 2022 legislative session and presented his goals for education throughout the state.
Steinhaus was born in Los Alamos and has dedicated his career to education and advocating for New Mexico students. He previously served as the superintendent of Los Alamos Public Schools and as the director of student programs, education, workforce development, scholarships and community giving at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Steinhaus also served as New Mexico deputy secretary of education, prekindergarten czar and education policy advisory for Gov. Bill Richardson.
His current role allows him to put his education and leadership to work, leading New Mexico on a path toward improving the state’s educational system and better enabling New Mexico schools to turn out the types of graduates the national laboratories need, as well as attract and retain parents of school-aged children. But he remains a teacher at his core.
“I still consider myself a teacher every day. Some days I teach with the Legislative Finance Committee. Today, I’m a teacher for Sandia,” Steinhaus said.
Education in New Mexico faces many challenges. Although on-time graduation rates have risen steadily since 2015, New Mexico still only graduates 77% of high school students in four years, Steinhaus said. Despite these continued challenges, he says the state has made historic investments in evidence-based educational programs to improve student outcomes at every grade level.
As the secretary of education, his current goals are to make this year the “Year of Literacy,” make New Mexico the fastest growing state in student achievement in math and language arts and make state educator salaries competitive with other states in our region.
Steinhaus said public education funding will increase by $3.87 billion for academic year 2022 to 2023. The largest increases are slated for school personnel compensation, incentives for extending learning, and teacher preparation and professional development.
To address the educator workforce crisis, the state will set new minimum salaries at three levels, including a starting salary level for beginning teachers at $50,000. All school personnel will receive an average 7% increase and additional incentives will be available for extended-learning programs, he said. Higher raises may also be available for hard-to-fill positions in some places, such as special education.
He lauded the Sandia workforce for its volunteer work with Big Brothers Big Sisters, the various science night events, the ABQ Reads Program and other activities that encourage students of all ages and backgrounds to excel. He also discussed the alternate licensure programs and substitute teaching options that some staff could consider post-retirement or on Fridays off, that would help address the teacher shortages.
The Sandia Parents Group led the Q&A at the end of the talk, discussing academic achievement, teacher pedagogy, mental health, and special education and disability resources.