Legislation to expand Teacher Loan Repayment Program passes first committee

Stephanie Montoya

Senate Bill 325 will include social workers and counselors working in public schools 

The New Mexico Higher Education Department applauded the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 325 from Senate Education on Monday to expand the state’s Teacher Loan Repayment Program to include social workers and counselors working in public K-12 schools. 

Senate Bill 325 – School Counselor Teacher Loan Repayment, sponsored by Senator Bill Soules and Representative Debra Sariñana, expands eligibility for the Teacher Loan Repayment Program to licensed social workers and counselors employed in high-need public schools in New Mexico. The existing program is limited to licensed teachers who have worked in the state for at least three years.  

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has recommended $10 million for the Teacher Loan Repayment Program in 2023, a $5 million increase from last year. The New Mexico Higher Education Department has continued to break records with the number of educators applying and benefitting from the program, resulting in a need for additional funding over the past two years.   

“New Mexico’s Teacher Loan Repayment Program is already helping over 1,400 teachers enter and stay in the classroom, and extending this benefit to licensed social workers and counselors will help schools recruit and retain these much-needed professionals who support the wellbeing and success of students without increasing the cost of the program,” said Higher Education Secretary Stephanie M. Rodriguez. “Together with Gov. Lujan Grisham, other education agencies, and educator unions, the New Mexico Higher Education Department is proud to invest in the behavioral health professionals and academic advisors who help keep students on track for success.”  

As New Mexico students continues to address mental health and behavioral challenges statewide, there is a high need for licensed social workers and counselors in public schools to support students’ wellbeing. According to data from the American School Counselor Association and the National Center for Education Statistics, there is only one school counselor for every 443 students in New Mexico, higher than the national average of 415 to one. The 2022 Educator Vacancy Report prepared by New Mexico State University documented 32 vacancies for school counselors last year.  

"A student’s mental, emotional, and behavioral health are as fundamental to their success in the classroom as grasping academic subject matter, but many of our schools struggle to recruit and retain the licensed professionals who meet these needs. As a career educator, I support this bill because having more mental and behavioral health professionals in our public schools set students and educators up for success,” said Senate Education Chairman and bill sponsor Senator William Soules.   

"Extending eligibility for the Teacher Loan Repayment Program to licensed social workers and counselors will attract more of these valued professionals to work in our public schools and provide much-needed support to New Mexico students and families. This legislation not only invests in educators but in creating a supportive environment for students to learn and succeed,” said bill sponsor Representative Debra Sariñana.     

New Mexico social workers are hopeful that that expansion of the program will help provide a stronger environment for students to learn and succeed. 

“This legislation is a prime example of how we move the New Mexico social work workforce and education of our children and youth into the future and demonstrates our value as New Mexicans in helping our communities, our children, and educators prosper and evolve to their highest potential.  Together, social workers and teachers make a tremendous team in support of families and communities,” said Veronica Sanchez, a licensed clinical social worker who has provided services to New Mexicans over the last 18 years.  

The measure is also supported by the New Mexico chapters of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). 

"We know licensed social workers and counselors play integral roles in our public education settings and provide much-needed professional services for our students and families. We also know that under the leadership of Gov. Lujan Grisham and Higher Education Secretary Rodriguez, 1,400 educators have experienced relief under this valuable program. Expanding it to social workers and counselors is the next logical step for this critical program, which helps to attract and retain our educators in New Mexico," said AFT New Mexico President Whitney Holland.  

“Our union fully supports expanding the language in the Teacher Loan Repayment Program to include public school social workers and counselors.  The pandemic underscored the dire need for these professionals in our schools. We support legislation that would help to recruit social workers and counselors into the school setting to help provide the best quality education to students,” said NEA-New Mexico President Mary Parr-Sanchez.  

The Teacher Loan Repayment Program provides up to $6,000 per year over two years toward outstanding federal student loan debt for eligible applicants working in high-need schools and subject areas in New Mexico. Teachers and licensed social workers must have lived and worked as a teacher in New Mexico for three years and commit to working for an eligible employer for at least two years. Applicants can reapply for funding every two years if they continue to meet eligibility criteria.