AUGUSTA- February 22, 2024- Maine Education Association (MEA) members from around the state gathered Thursday to urge legislators to fund pay increases for teachers and education support professionals to help address the urgent educator shortage crisis.

“Right now, in February, school districts across the state have still been unable to fill critical positions—in some districts, there are dozens of vacancies,” said Grace Leavitt, MEA Board President.

The event follows Wednesday’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee hearing, where members and MEA President Grace Leavitt testified, urging legislators to include funding for LD 974 and LD 1064 in the supplemental budget. Both bills are aimed at raising pay for teachers and school staff and passed through the Education and Cultural Affairs committee with bipartisan support.

Representative Michael Brennen, D-Portland, Education and Cultural Affairs Committee Chair, echoed Leavitt’s remarks. “These two bills need to be a priority for the legislature; for the last two years, we have heard countless testimonies in front of the Committee about the challenges our educators face.”

“As an educator and coach, I know that kids need healthy food to fuel their day, whether that’s studying or competing in sports. When we get more local foods into our school cafeterias, kids get better access to meals that taste good and give them the nutrients they need,” said Sen. Joe Rafferty, D-Kennebunk, who co-chairs the committee. “The reality is, not every district has the capacity to cook every meal from scratch. Thankfully, there are great businesses in our state that are ready to partner with schools to feed our kids. This bill is a great win for students and our economy.”

Both bills have received bipartisan support from the Education committee, “If we want a productive workforce and good citizens, we must invest in public education and public schools. The Republicans on the Education Committee are proud to join our Democratic colleagues on the Committee to pass both bills and we hope the Legislature will continue working to find a path to fund both proposals,” said Senator Jim Libby, R-Cumberland.

MEA members Jim Handy, Ed Tech at Robert V Connors Elementary School, and Kendrah Willey, a first-year teacher in RSU 68, shared these challenges through their firsthand experiences of working at understaffed schools and recruiting young educators the press event on Thursday.

“I have classmates graduating with their education degree but choosing not to use it because the amount of time, dedication, and effort that we put into teaching is not reflected in our pay,” stated Kendrah Willey.

“I work in a resource room with over 40 students,” said Jim Handy. “We currently have dozens of open ed tech positions in the Lewiston School District where I work, and we struggle to find applicants.”

Senator Teresa Pierce, D-Cumberland sponsored LD 1064 to increase teacher salaries also recognizes the challenges that districts across Maine face to hire and retain qualified educators. “School districts across

Maine are struggling to hire and retain qualified teachers. We know a major part of the problem is low pay that hasn’t kept up with the cost of inflation. Raising pay to keep pace with both the cost of living and the pay in surrounding states is critical to making sure our students have the best education possible, so they can become the leaders of tomorrow. Investing in schools and educators means investing in Maine’s future,” Senator Pierce said.

The MEA remains committed to working with legislators to secure funding for both bills. “It is critical that we do more to attract and retain quality educators to work with our students in Maine. LD 974 and 1064 will go a long way towards doing just that,” said Leavitt. You can learn more about both bills here.

Check out local coverage of the event

WGME: Two bills aim to help Maine school districts fill vacancies

WMTW: Maine educators ask lawmakers to fund bills that would raise their pay

Portland Press Herald: Maine teachers call on lawmakers to raise their minimum salary

Fox 22 ABC 7 Bangor: Educators urge lawmakers for salary increase

WAGM ABC 8 Presque Isle: The Maine Education Association Host Conference to Discuss Educator’s Pay

SPECTRUM NEWS: Maine teachers and school staff call for raises amid shortages

WABI TV 5: Maine educators ask lawmakers to fund bills that would raise their pay