If Gov. Paul LePage wants to give Maine teachers a raise, we’re all in. Pretty sure Democrats are too, judging from the reaction Tuesday night to the governor’s remarks on teacher pay at the annual State of the State address, one of the few that night to draw a bipartisan standing ovation.

But attracting top talent to the teaching profession, and making sure that talent goes to poor, rural districts as well as the wealthier suburban ones, will take more than a statewide teacher contract. Although that could help, it also requires a sustained effort to fight against the many forces keeping students across the state from having the same educational opportunities.

NOT JUST SALARY

A statewide teacher contract could counterbalance one of those forces. Because each school district negotiates its own teacher salaries, there are disparities between the wealthier and poorer districts. For example, according to a Press Herald analysis of Maine School Management Association data, the average teacher salary in the Cumberland County region is significantly higher than in the Kennebec County region, $57,500 to just more than $43,000. That gives the wealthier schools a clear advantage in attracting the best and most experienced teachers.

A statewide contract, or regional contracts designed to deal with regional differences in the cost of living, could level the playing field, allowing poorer schools to attract and retain teachers who would otherwise go elsewhere.

But salary is just one factor dividing schools. Teachers want to teach, too, where there are smaller class sizes and a range of class offerings. They don’t want to dip into their own pockets to buy student supplies. They certainly don’t want to teach in outdated schools, where they may be stuck in a trailer or converted closet posing as a classroom.

Equitable salaries across schools alone won’t make it easier for teachers to do their job, and they won’t bring more people to the profession. Both are desperately needed. Nationwide, there were 60,000 fewer teachers than needed in 2015, and the deficit could reach 100,000 by 2018. Each year, 8 percent of teachers leave the profession, and a lot of it has to do with inadequate school funding, as well as other factors that have put teacher satisfaction at a 25-year low.

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped nationally, and in Maine the number of education degrees awarded fell from 1,222 at its peak in 2006-07 to 787 last year.

Wages for teachers are far behind those of comparable college-educated professionals.

In Maine, school funding was slow to rebound following the Great Recession, and our 33rd-ranked average teacher salary, along with a high cost of living, makes it one of the toughest states to be a teacher, according to WalletHub.

MORE INVESTMENT

Around the country, we are simply not investing enough in schools and teachers to make teaching an attractive profession. If Gov. LePage would like to change that, he should have a partner in Maine Democrats, who have consistently fought for more school funding, and who last year backed a bill that would have increased starting pay for all teachers. He would also have the backing of Maine voters, who in November supported an income-tax surcharge to raise money for schools, a move the governor has resisted.

LePage has made education reform a focus of his final two years in office.

However, he isn’t likely to find much of an appetite for one of his proposals – changing the school-funding formula, which has been praised for its fairness by analysts who also say that Maine education needs greater funding. And though his idea for regional consolidation of administration has promise, implementation may be difficult, and savings unimpressive.

But he would certainly find support in providing all Maine schools with sufficient funding.

That would help poorer schools, and poorer students, improve, and according to an analysis by an education professor at the University of Southern Maine, raising the achievement levels of poor students to match more well-off students would give Maine the country’s second-ranked schools.

If LePage wants to get more money “into the classroom” – that is, to teachers and into the facilities where students learn — he can certainly do that, and with great effect.