AUGUSTAIn vetoing a bill to support teacher training on Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage called for a more comprehensive solution and criticized the Maine Education Association for not doing more to improve teacher quality.

The bill, L.D. 1781, would increase stipends for teachers who achieve National Board Certification and provide scholarships for teachers undertaking the costly and time-consuming process.

“I am not vetoing this bill because I disagree with the benefits of National Board Certification,” LePage said in his veto message. “Rather, I am vetoing it because it is a Band-Aid to a problem — the need for highly qualified teachers — requiring a larger more coordinated state-wide solution.”

LePage said the MEA, which is Maine’s largest teachers union, “refuses to focus on improving teacher quality,” which has the greatest impact on student achievement of any in-school factor.

Instead, LePage said, the MEA devotes attention and resources to issues unrelated to improving education, such as suing the state to block the release of health insurance data and endorsing the November referendum to make same-sex marriage legal.

He said member dues paid to MEA have been “squandered.”

MEA Executive Director Rob Walker said Tuesday that L.D. 1781 is important for Maine teachers, and he’s disappointed by the governor’s veto.

“When you read what he wrote in his message, he’s punishing people who are trying to become more effective teachers because he’s mad at the Maine Education Association and he disapproves of unions,” Walker said.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement that LePage is making a political issue of a proposal that has strong bipartisan support in the Legislature and makes an investment in better public schools.

 

“Teachers are the foundation for a successful public education and we know that the most effective teachers are also lifelong learners,” Alfond said. “The governor’s veto essentially sends a message to teachers that their learning is not important.”

 

To become certified, teachers complete 10 assessments of their content knowledge and teaching practices. They must submit portfolios of classroom videos and written materials to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for peer review.

While some studies have found little effect on students, several others have shown that students of board-certified teachers perform better on standardized tests.

The national board charges teachers $2,500, and the process takes several months.

According to Alfond’s statement,158 of Maine’s estimated 15,000 public school teachers are National Board Certified, putting the state in the bottom 20 percent of the nation.

In 2006, Maine began paying annual stipends of $3,000 to board-certified teachers. Funding was capped, however; and as more teachers became certified, the stipends dropped below $2,000, Walker said.

L.D. 1781 sets the stipends at $2,500 for 2012-13, rising to $3,000 in 2014-15 and beyond.

It also establishes scholarships to help teachers applying for certification, funded with fees collected by the Department of Education. Scholarships would be available to 20 teachers the first year and 30 teachers thereafter.

Some school districts — particularly wealthier ones in southern Maine — help underwrite the cost of certification for teachers or provide a stipend in addition to the state’s incentive, Walker said. Many other districts cannot afford to do so.

The Legislature has scheduled a session on Thursday to consider vetoes by LePage.

Overturning a veto requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. The teacher training bill passed without a roll-call vote, which is common for bills that are not considered controversial.

Walker said the MEA will ask its members to contact their legislators about the importance of overriding the veto.

“For the poorer communities who are struggling with making ends meet, it just means that there’s less of a chance that they’ll end up with National Board Certified teachers,” Walker said.

In his veto message, LePage reiterated a pledge to increase state funding for teacher development if the MEA will match it dollar for dollar.

“Unfortunately, this bill would simply provide a false victory and an excuse to not take on real substantive reforms resulting in better teachers in the classroom,” he wrote.

Walker called LePage’s challenge a “red herring.”

“It’s not the MEA’s mission to train a work force,” he said. “It’s the job of the employer to make sure that the work force is properly trained and retooled as needed.”

The MEA does help train teachers, Walker said, including organizing support groups and finding mentors for teachers working on National Board Certification.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

smcmillan@mainetoday.com