Nicole Pearson loves her job.

She’s a lead teacher in a highly structured special education classroom at Aspen Community School in Santa Fe. She has two master’s degrees and nearly two decades of experience as an educator.

But when her eldest child became gravely ill, Pearson said she had to make an excruciating choice. On a teacher’s salary, there was no way she could afford the surgeries and medications her daughter needed. So she chose to decrease her hours, dropping to part-time status and making her daughter eligible for public health coverage.