State legislators are considering a series of bills to increase the K-12 workforce in the face of a long-running and stubborn shortage that many say threatens to undermine Maine’s public schools.

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee heard testimony Thursday on eight bills intended to attract new educators and retain existing ones through training programs and pay increases.

The bills largely focus on the shortage of education support staff, including education technicians, custodians and bus drivers. Bills centered on the shortage of classroom teachers are also moving through the Legislature.

Maine school districts have long been short of education and other staff, but the pandemic severely exacerbated the problem. In recent years, staff shortages have forced schools to cancel bus routes, have students learn remotely, and left educators struggling to serve students while scrambling to cover for one another, leaving them without break and prep time.

The same is true around the country. Before the pandemic, a report by the Economic Policy Institute described the nation’s educator shortage as “real, large and growing and worse than we thought.”

As it did in Maine, the pandemic accelerated the national shortage. Experts say the primary issue is not that there aren’t enough qualified teachers and other educators, but that those who are qualified aren’t willing to work high-stress jobs for low pay.


Some of the bills presented Thursday would increase educator salaries. Others would invest in training programs, create alternative ways to become certified and direct the state to look into how to retain educators.

It’s hard to say how severe the educator shortage is in Maine, because no one is tracking it. But school districts around the state have struggled to hire staff, creating untenable long-term work situations for educators and difficult learning conditions for students, education leaders say.

Students sit in a classroom at Loranger Memorial School in Old Orchard Beach in 2020. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Those who testified in support of the bills said solving the problem will require increasing pay so it is comparable to other jobs that require similar education and training. They also supported creating more flexible pathways to becoming a certified educator, including allowing educators to train in the classroom and get paid while in school.

The current discussion on raising educator pay, particularly for support staff, comes four years after Gov. Janet Mills started the process of raising the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 by this school year. Many speakers Thursday lauded that move but said there needs to be a similar push for educator support staff.

“School support staff keep our children safe and healthy so they may flourish. School support staff help children learn and excel. School support staff keep our schools running smoothly,” said Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, in presenting her bill to raise the minimum salary for support staff to 125% of the state’s minimum wage, currently $13.80 an hour.

Millet’s bill would push the minimum salary for all education support staff to $17.25 an hour. Another bill would increase minimum ed-tech pay to 200% of minimum wage and make no changes to other support staff wages. Another would increase ed-tech pay to 133% of minimum wage, and that of other education support staff to 125% of minimum wage.


Pay scales for educator support staff vary depending on experience, education and the school district.

The average minimum wage for ed-techs is $14.84 an hour for those with the least training, $16.10 for those with middle-tier training and $17.70 for those with the most training.

Education requirements for the three levels range from a high school diploma or GED to 90 education-related college credits. A bachelor’s degree usually requires 120 credits.

York Village Elementary School executive secretary Heather Gilchrest said educators need livable wages to do their jobs effectively.

“I see daily how low wages affect quality of life for support staff and how that in turn affects quality of care,” she said.

She said many people enter the education profession to make a difference in the lives of children. But quickly, she said, their joy and eagerness becomes exhaustion as they try to live off meager wages, take second and sometimes third jobs to make ends meet, and sacrifice sleep, mental and physical health and personal time with family and friends.


“When you have support staff that are so overworked, how can that not impact our students?” she said. “How can we encourage kids to keep on going, keep doing our best, when we can’t do that ourselves?”

The current educator shortage has been years in the making. Those who testified Thursday said the problem has become acute, and now is the time to act.

Some of Thursday’s bills would continue programs that create pathways for educators to learn while being paid to work, and put classroom hours toward certification. Students and graduates said these programs have allowed them to learn from experienced teachers and support themselves while in school. Administrators said they have allowed them to fill vacant positions they desperately need.

Jon Doty, assistant superintendent of the district serving the Old Town area, said he has been working for years with regional partners to bring educators into the field and improve preparation programs. Still, he said, his district has had three to seven open ed-tech jobs every day this year.

“There simply aren’t enough people entering or persisting in this field,” he said. “These shortages result in students not getting the services and supports they need day-to-day, and put additional staffing/coverage strain on other adults near that open position.”

He said it’s hard to imagine where his district would be without these alternative pathways.

Although testimony opposing these bills was limited, some said they were concerned about raising minimum educator support salaries too close to minimum pay for teachers, who usually require more education than support staff.

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