AUGUSTA — Kendrah Willey got into teaching because she loves science and had great teachers who inspired her. She enjoys sharing her passion with the seventh graders in her Dover-Foxcroft classroom.

“I love the kids and doing things with them,” Willey said. “Getting to see them grow is really cool, even though I’ve only been teaching now for six months. I love the job so much and I want to be able to continue to do my job.”

But Willey, a first-year teacher who earns $40,000 a year, wonders if it will be sustainable for her long term.

“I need to be able to make a living, too,” she said. “As things are right now, I’m not sure if it is (sustainable). I seriously wonder, ‘Will I ever be able to buy a house or have a family?’ ”

Willey and other educators from around Maine gathered at the State House on Thursday to call on lawmakers to raise the minimum salary for teachers and to set a minimum wage for education technicians and support staff.

The issue is particularly pressing, they said, because many schools are facing staff shortages and vacancies.


“Right now, we’re more than halfway through the school year, and a lot of schools still have vacancies they’re unable to fill,” said Grace Leavitt, president of the Maine Education Association, a union representing more than 23,000 teachers, support staff and professors.

“We need to do something about that. There’s a really urgent need for qualified teachers, for qualified education technicians, for all of our support professionals.”

Leavitt said educators are calling on lawmakers to support two bills. L.D. 1064 would raise the minimum salary for teachers from $40,000 to $50,000 by the 2027-28 school year.

And L.D. 974 would establish a minimum wage for education technicians at 150% of the state minimum wage. The minimum wage for all other hourly school support staff would be 125% of the state minimum wage.

At the current state minimum wage of $14.15, that would mean ed techs would earn at least $21.23 per hour and other school support staff would earn at least $17.69 per hour.

Both bills carried over from the last session. L.D. 1064, which is sponsored by Sen. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, passed the House and Senate but didn’t get funding.


L.D. 974, sponsored by Rep. Ed Crockett, D-Portland, was tabled in the House and returned this session to the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, where it was voted out with unanimous support on Tuesday.

“These two bills need to be a top priority of the Legislature,” said Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, co-chair of the committee. “For the last two years, there hasn’t been a person that’s come to testify before the education committee that hasn’t talked about the difficulty of recruiting teachers and having an appropriate workforce.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills said the governor worked with the Legislature in 2019 to increase the minimum teacher salary to its current $40,000 and that she supports the concept of raising the minimum teacher salary to $50,000.

“However, financing the increase in a sustainable way remains a serious challenge,” spokesperson Scott Ogden said.

“We will continue to work closely with the Legislature on this issue,” Ogden said in an email.

The fiscal note on L.D. 1064 estimates a cost of $3.5 million in the first year, with annual costs increasing up to $11 million by 2027-2028. The state would pay 100% of the cost of the increase up through 2026-27, after which costs would be shared by the state and local school districts.


The fiscal note also mentions that increasing the base minimum salary could put pressure on school districts to increase pay for other employees unless the education department adjusts its salary matrix.

The governor’s office said Thursday that according to the Department of Education and Department of Administrative and Financial Services, additional costs to adjust the salary matrix would total $57.6 million – to be shared by the state and districts – per $2,500 increment in the new minimum salary.

L.D. 974 has a fiscal note that calls for a $7.8 million cost to the state in the first two years and $28 million in the third year. Local school districts also would bear some costs – estimated to be around $5.7 million for the wage increases for non-special education ed techs and clerical staff in the first year.

School districts also would bear the first two years of wage increases for transportation and special education ed techs – estimated to be about $20 million total per year – but the state would pick up those costs after two years.

The state does not keep data on school vacancies, but a recent report from the MEA found dozens of openings in individual districts and said there has been a dramatic uptick in the number of ed techs who have quit in the last few years.

Similarly, the union found that large numbers of teachers have quit to work in other professions since the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2015-16 school year, 265 Maine teachers quit their jobs and left teaching. That number jumped to 580 in the 2021-22 school year and 533 in the 2022-23 school year.

Willey, the first-year teacher from Dover-Foxcroft, said she has seen fellow recent graduates who are choosing not to use their education degrees because they feel the time and effort needed for the job isn’t reflected in the pay. Some of her colleagues live paycheck to paycheck and can barely get by. One shared with her that after they began teaching they had to apply for food stamps.

“For professionals that have such an impact on the lives of many people in our state, we need to do better,” she said.

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