The Maine Education Association is enthused by the potential our public schools hold. Throughout the state, we have dedicated educators working hard every day to help students succeed, despite the growing concerns of childhood poverty among the students we serve. The MEA is committed to empowering educators in this state. By empowering educators, we empower our students and our schools to be vibrant places of learning and development. To that end, the MEA will be working on the following issues in the next legislative session:
- Full Funding of Maine’s Public Schools: The MEA is committed to finally realizing the 55% state funding for public schools and will vocally and consistently advocate for this goal at every turn. When we shortchange our schools, educators and programs are pitted against property taxpayers. This is not good for kids, not good for educators, and not good for those on fixed incomes. We must finally realize the goal of 55% state funding of schools as voted have demanded and stop the chronic underfunding of our classrooms and schools.
- Improve the Teaching Profession: Maine faces a crisis among educators like this state have never seen. Approximately 35% of Maine’s teachers are 55 or older, and it is expected a mass exodus from the teaching profession in the next 5-7 years. At the same time, Maine’s universities and colleges report enrollment in teacher preparation programs has never been lower. The current shortage of educators will only be exacerbated unless the State takes immediate action to improve the image and benefits of the teaching profession and unless we take immediate action to increase the number of students entering our teacher preparation programs. Below are some immediate plans MEA believes will address this critical problem.
- Lift Teacher Pay: The minimum teacher salary in Maine is currently just $30,000. Many studies show teacher pay falls far behind what other professionals can expect to make immediately after college. While pay only entices some into the profession, by lifting the minimum teacher salary in Maine, we can at least insure that new entrants into the profession are focused on learning how to be the best teacher – not working second jobs to make ends meet. The last time the minimum teacher salary was raised in Maine was 2006 and if the increase had been tied to inflation, the minimum teacher salary would be closer to $37,000 today. Lifting the minimum teacher salary is one piece of the puzzle, but one we must prioritize. The MEA will support all reasonable efforts to lift the minimum teacher salary and we will work with allies to secure a minimum teacher salary of at least $40,000.
- Improve the Healthcare for Retired Teachers: If we want new entrants to the profession, we must also demonstrate a commitment to the teachers that have come before us and one way to show that is to make improvements to the healthcare program for retired teachers. The State currently pays 45% of the cost of a health care plan for retired teachers. While the pensions have been cut and medical inflation has gone through the roof, the state hasn’t done enough to support educators who have given their life to helping kids. The MEA will support efforts to increase the amount the State pays for healthcare for retired teachers and educators.
- Free College for Education Students: Given the huge demographic challenges facing the teaching workforce, we know we must do a better job of recruiting students into teacher preparation programs. To that end we will support efforts to increase the Educators for Maine loan program currently in place. Currently, this loan provides $3,000 in loans for students studying education in a Maine university or college and the loan can be forgiven if upon graduation the person teaches in a Maine classroom. The MEA will support efforts to triple the loan amount so it can cover almost all the cost of tuition at the University of Maine – Farmington. MEA feels strongly increasing attendance in the teacher preparation programs in the state and capitalizing and extending the Educators for Maine loan program seems like one good way to do just that.
- Paid Family Leave for Educators: We must get serious about the impending changes to the teacher and educator workforce. We can expect new entrants to the profession will likely be younger and child-bearing age and if we are going to be successful in recruiting new teachers and educators we must provide a work environment that supports young families. The MEA will support efforts to enact a paid family leave program for all school employees. Too many times teachers and other educators time their pregnancies around the summer months, but as we know pregnancies do not always go as planned. MEA believes there should be time to heal from pregnancy and bond with a new baby. If teachers and educators care for other people’s children, we should make sure they have the time to care for their own.
- Appoint educators to Boards and Commissions: The State of Maine has many boards and commissions, ranging from high profile Boards such as the University of Maine Board of Trustees to lesser known boards. The MEA will actively promote educators and MEA members to serve on boards all over the state and we will work with legislators to promote our members for leadership positions throughout the state. If you are interested in serving on a board or commission, please let John Kosinski, MEA’s Govt Relations director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now more than ever, we need to make sure our voices are heard, and we enact the changes educators so desperately need and deserve. By empowering educators and improving our professions, we can improve our ability to help all of Maine’s students succeed. Students’ learning conditions are educators working conditions. Together we can advance and improve all our schools.