Emily Albee was thrilled when she landed her first teaching job, a part-time social studies position. Thirteen years later, she still loves her job and working with young people.

But living off a teacher’s salary can be challenging, she said, so challenging that she sometimes worries she’ll have to leave the field.

Albee, the 2022 Penobscot County Teacher of the Year, has a master’s degree in education and a certificate of advanced study in technology and social studies with a graduate certificate in innovation in engineering. Her teaching job pays about $59,000 a year, and she works multiple jobs to supplement her pay, she said.

“This financial reality does create unnecessary stress and burden for my family and makes me feel like I will be forced out of a profession I love so I can pay my bills,” Albee told lawmakers during a public hearing Thursday.

Members of Maine’s K-12 education system are asking the state to gradually raise the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 by the 2027-28 school year. That’s an increase of $10,000 from the current minimum salary of $40,000.

The Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs committee heard mostly supportive testimony of the bill sponsored by Sen. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth. Representatives from the state Department of Education, the Maine Education Association, and the state Chamber of Commerce, as well as individual teachers and students, spoke or submitted written testimony in favor of the bill.


Supporters argue that teachers need to be paid more to recruit and retain a talented K-12 educator workforce and prepare the next generation of Mainers for success. And they say the move would create pressure to raise teacher salaries across the board, benefitting more experienced teachers who earn more than the minimum, as well as those early in their careers.

Two speakers testified against the bill.

Steven Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, said he was concerned about the cost to local school districts that would be forced to raise their starting salaries. And conservative activist Shawn McBreairty argued that decisions about educator salaries should be made by local school boards.

The bill comes to the table as the state faces a severe educator shortage that is likely to get worse before it gets better as an increasing number of teachers retire or leave the field and decreasing number of new teachers enter the field.

For years, schools around the state and the nation have struggled to staff classrooms. The issue was exacerbated by the pandemic, leaving teachers to forgo prep time to cover for colleagues and take on additional workloads and sometimes forcing schools to close because of staff shortages, all while students’ academic, social, and emotional needs have continued to rise. The number of vacant teaching positions in Maine schools is not clear because no one is tracking the issue, but districts across the state, from Portland and Lewiston to districts in Aroostook County, have struggled to hire teachers.

Supporters of Pierce’s bill say raising the minimum teacher salary by $2,500 each year over the next four years to reach a floor of $50,000 would be an important step in addressing the teacher shortage and increasing the sustainability of the field.


“Teaching should not mean one has to sacrifice their financial stability, or that of their family, or that of their future in retirement,” said Grace Leavitt, president of the Maine Education Association. “Teaching is the profession that prepares people for all other professions. And people should be compensated accordingly.”

The average teacher’s salary in Maine for the 2020-21 school year was $57,167, the 30th highest average salary in the nation, according to the latest data from the National Education Association. In the same year, the average starting salary was $37,580, the 43rd highest in the nation, also according to the NEA. The $40,000 minimum did not take effect until this school year. In the 2020-21 school year, the minimum starting salary was $35,000.

Not only are Maine teacher salaries on the lower end of the national spectrum, but the state has the lowest teacher salaries in New England. In neighboring New Hampshire, the average starting salary in the 2020-21 school year was $39,737. In Vermont, $40,810, and in Massachusetts $48,372.

Many in the education field say the pay situation makes it challenging to recruit teachers from out of state and keep teachers after they graduate from professional programs in Maine.


But some say raising minimum teacher salaries to $50,000 is untenable.


Bailey, the Maine School Management Association executive director, said that although he supports raising salaries for Maine’s teachers, he doesn’t think it’s the right time to do so. Because schools are facing other budget pressures from inflation, a loss of federal COVID money, and pressure to increase support staff pay, he worries that mandating districts to increase teacher salaries would result in significant local tax increases and result in local communities voting down school budgets. Generally, salaries and benefits make up 75% to 80% of school budgets.

But others say not raising salaries could significantly harm the state’s education field and ultimately students.

Liam Anderson is a junior at the University of Maine Orono studying early childhood education. He chose to study early childhood education because he wants to positively impact as many lives as he can. “For me, that means becoming a teacher,” he said.

But despite his passion, he worries about how he will make ends meet on a teacher’s salary.

“For the aspiring educators seeking out the opportunity to positively impact their community with their passion for the profession, the current teacher salary scale is the most restrictive obstacle towards achieving such an opportunity,” he said.

He said raising the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 so educators around the state can support themselves is essential to attracting a new and robust corps of teachers.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story