New Mexico's governor signs up to be volunteer substitute teacher amid staffing shortage
By Veronica Stracqualursi and Michelle Watson, CNN
(CNN) -- Faced with a dire staffing shortage in schools, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has taken drastic measures.
The Democratic governor launched an initiative Wednesday asking state workers and National Guard members to become licensed volunteer substitute K-12 teachers and child care workers. Lujan Grisham has completed the registration to become licensed as a substitute teacher, her press secretary Nora Sackett confirmed to CNN.
The move is an effort to help fill staffing gaps and stave off closures across school districts and child care centers because of the rise in Omicron cases.
Volunteers will have to clear a mandatory background check, complete an online substitute teaching training, and then undergo a typical onboarding process done by the school where they're placed. The new program speeds up approval of the licensing process to two days. Civil servants and Guard members who are currently involved in critical health care roles or administering vaccines are asked not to participate.
Lujan Grisham, who has no prior experience in education, expects to be placed in an elementary school next week, she told CNN's Fredricka Whitfield on "Newsroom" Saturday.
She said her state was left with no choice but to ask for additional help from the public to get more substitute teachers in New Mexico's schools.
"There aren't any other options," the governor said.
Should a New Mexico school district accept her offer to serve as a substitute, Lujan Grisham says she will donate her services and will not accept payment.
"We'll have additional information about her placement this upcoming week," Sackett told CNN. "This work will not require the Lt. Gov. to act as governor."
The governor is among the 100 -- 50 National Guard members and 50 state employees -- who have so far signed up for the initiative, according to Lujan Grisham.
CNN has reached out to the New Mexico National Guard.
"The whole goal is certainly not to interrupt the qualified experienced work that is required in our public schools," Lujan Grisham said on CNN, adding that the aim of the initiative is to "keep schools open and to support educators, parents, and students through the worst of Omicron."
Since winter break, roughly 60 school districts and charter schools in New Mexico were forced to switch to remote-learning due to staff members testing positive for Covid-19 or having to isolate or quarantine under CDC recommendations, according to the governor's office.
Also due to staffing shortages, 75 child care centers have partially or completely closed since the start of the year, according to the governor's office.
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario "Larry" Chavez, whose school district has gone remote, said Wednesday that the initiative will be "instrumental" in helping continue or return to in-person learning and reduce "the stress on our remaining staff who have taken on additional duties."
"This initiative will help create a stable school environment, as well as help parents who are having to juggle childcare and jobs," MaryBeth Weeks, the head of New Mexico Parent Teacher Association, said in a statement.
New Mexico Republicans criticized the program and the governor in statements to CNN.
"Given that Lujan Grisham is on her third Education cabinet secretary appointee, it is no wonder that she cannot seem to find a way to keep our schools at full employment. This Governor has single-handedly made a school system that was already struggling, fall even further behind," Republican state House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said.
Republican state Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca said in a statement: "What New Mexico needs right now is leadership—not political stunts. While we appreciate those willing to step in and teach, let's call this 'initiative' what it really is—a desperate reaction to the crisis created by this governor."
New Mexico is not the only state facing teacher shortages and implementing extraordinary measures to keep classrooms running, such as asking parents or alumni to become substitute teachers or dispatching office administrators.
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