At least everyone can agree that Maine teachers need a raise.

Everyone, that is, on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, which this session has been hashing out ideas for making teachers’ salaries more equitable across the state, so that poorer districts don’t lose talented, experienced educators to wealthier communities.

One of those ideas – to raise the minimum annual salary from $30,000 to $40,000 – is simple and straightforward, and should be put into law. Another – to create a state-negotiated teacher contract – has potential but came to lawmakers with too many questions and still needs work.

The latter idea began as a true statewide teacher contract. As originally conceived, L.D. 864, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, with support from the LePage administration, would have given the state the power to negotiate one teacher contract covering all Maine school districts, with the state picking up the full cost of wages and benefits.

In a way, that’s remarkable, as in one swoop it would raise state funding to more than the 55 percent set in law – a requirement the Legislature has never met.

However, the money would have been distributed unfairly, with no regard for a district’s ability to pay. As a result, communities like Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth would have seen their state funding increase six- or seven-fold, while Lewiston and Waterville would have received less than before.

In response, the bill was amended to make the statewide contract voluntary, with the state focusing particularly on 38 economically disadvantaged districts.

A lot of good could come from that. Teachers in Maine’s smaller, poorer districts could be assured of competitive pay. The districts could have some degree of budget certainty, knowing wages and benefits were taken care of. School boards could be spared the time-consuming process of negotiating wages and benefits.

But the proposal, which was voted down along party lines in committee and now goes to the full Legislature, still lacks detail. Who will decide if a district participates? Will teachers have any input? How will the funding through the state-negotiated contract work alongside other districts that receive money through the state funding formula, with all of its mechanisms for equity?

Those are just a few of the questions surrounding a bill that was introduced with little detail, with the idea that the Department of Education and school districts could figure it out. And that was before significant changes were made in committee. That’s no way to implement such a major initiative. Group contracts may work in some form, but before lawmakers go down that road, they should know a little bit more about where it is headed.

Far easier is simply raising the minimum teacher salary, with the state picking up the difference for poorer districts, as proposed in L.D. 818. That bill, sponsored by state Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, passed the education committee by a 7-2 vote.

It wouldn’t completely solve the inequity issue – nothing will, as long as districts are allowed to set local salaries, and no one is proposing to take that away.

But it would give poorer districts the ability to raise the salary floor, nudging all salaries upward. Along with additional state education funding – such as that approved at the polls in November but now the subject of intense partisan fighting in the Legislature – a higher minimum salary would help attract and retain good educators.

Together, they’d help struggling districts expand academic offerings, buy the right supplies and generally make schools a better place for students and teachers.

That’s the best and simplest way to solve the problem, and until there are more answers on a state-negotiated contract, it’s the way lawmakers should go.