AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers are weighing a bill that would raise the minimum teacher salary by $10,000 per year and would require teachers employed by public schools to obtain a master’s degree.
LD 1370, An Act to Improve the Quality of Teachers, proposed by Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cumberland, went up for public hearing Wednesday during a meeting of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
In concept, the bill garnered strong support from education officials, but some groups expressed concerns about new rules in the bill that might make it harder for the state to find teachers to fill roles at already understaffed schools.
The bill raises the minimum certified teacher salary from $30,000 to $40,000 starting July 1, 2016. The Department of Education, starting in fiscal year 2017-18, would be required to increase the state share of schools’ allocations to help them meet those new salary requirements.
It also places new requirements on those who want to pursue the profession, with the goal of raising the quality of teachers in the state across the board:
— Teaching students must have at least one year’s worth of practicum experience, starting in their sophomore year of college or university, plus 24 weeks of student teaching experience during their senior year. Current law requires 15 weeks of student teaching in the senior year.
— New teachers at the elementary and secondary levels would be required to graduate from their higher education institution with a 3.0 GPA or better.
— Teachers issued a certificate after July 1, 2015, would be required to complete a master’s degree program within five years of being employed by the state.
— Teachers with three or fewer years of experience would be required to receive peer reviews, including classroom observation and “formative feedback.”
Finally, the bill provides $500,000 in funding over the biennium toward loan programs awarded to eligible students through the Educators of Maine Program.
“LD 1370 raises the status of teaching so we can attract the best and brightest to the profession and pay them a salary they deserve,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, voicing her organization’s support for the bill. “We need to encourage motivated, enthusiastic graduates to join us in classrooms as we shape the future of Maine students.”
The Maine Education Association says nearly 30 percent of Maine teachers are older than 55, making it vital for the state to attract young people into the field. One of the ways to do that is to make the field more lucrative.
Only three school districts in the state — York, Edgecomb and Wells-Ogunquit — pay starting salaries higher than $40,000, according to the Maine Education Association.
Representatives of Bowdoin and Bates colleges “reluctantly” opposed the bill, arguing that the provision requiring a sophomore practicum doesn’t mesh with their teaching programs because students there aren’t required to declare a major or minor until late in their sophomore year. Supporters argue that gives students a chance to determine early on whether or not teaching is for them.
Still, the schools support raising base pay for teachers, as well as expectations, but they expressed concerns that the new provisions added by the bill would raise the cost of educating students at their colleges, and thus increase tuition.
Anita Charles, director of secondary teacher education at Bates, said she felt some aspects of the bill were contradictory. For example, requiring new teachers to meet these new standards might drive away prospective teachers, rather than attracting them to the occupation, which is another goal of the same bill.
The costs associated with obtaining a master’s degree in education also might cause some students with limited financial means to shy away from pursuing the profession.
Another concern raised about the bill was that the GPA requirement would be too “subjective,” as a 3.0 GPA at one school does not represent the same level of success as it might at another.
Still, several of those who spoke against or took no position on the bill said they were interested in starting the conversation about how to accomplish these goals, even if the bill doesn’t garner Legislative approval.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.