Have you seen the TV spots with educators talking about their love for the profession? We are so fortunate to have such dedicated educators in Maine — teachers, educational technicians, and all the adults who have essential roles in our students’ schools that support their learning. But we just do not have enough of them.

Last month, the Maine Department of Education released the most recent list of teacher shortage areas in our state. My reaction was, “What isn’t on this list?” — it included nearly every level and content area. And it isn’t the first time the list has been so extensive. Worse, the list only includes teachers. Look at nearly any district website under “job opportunities” and you’ll see postings for school counselors, social workers, ed techs (lots of vacancies!), food service, custodians and, of course, bus drivers.

No surprise, since in too many places, the pay is simply not what it should be to attract qualified people for these critically important jobs. There are ed techs with 20-plus years of experience and expertise who earn less than their students do at after-school jobs. The recent ALICE report shows that 17% of ed techs live below the survival budget threshold. The same is true for 16% of elementary and middle school teachers. The teacher pay gap is 76% — teachers earn 24% less than the friends they graduated from college with who chose a different career.

Although educators do all they can to keep the shortages from impacting students, when there’s a shortage of drivers kids can’t get to school. When ed techs are pulled to fill in for a vacancy elsewhere they are kept from their assignments. When a classroom position can’t be filled, class sizes are larger and the individual attention a teacher can give to students is impacted.

This all takes a toll on educators who do their best to cover and do more with less. The numbers who have made the tough decision to quit, despite their passion for the work, have doubled in recent years, according to data from MainePERS, while the number of those completing teacher preparation programs has dropped over 50% since 2010.

Two bills in the Legislature will help turn this troubling trend around. L.D. 974, An Act to Establish Minimum Pay for Educational Technicians and Other School Support Staff, and L.D. 1064, An Act to Increase the Minimum Teacher Salary, were carried over from last year and have unanimous support of the legislators on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. It is time to make progress on the compensation needed to attract and to retain educators.

All students deserve schools that are fully staffed with qualified educators. They are depending on us to provide the support they need to be successful in their learning. Our educators have great passion for what they do, but their enthusiasm won’t pay the bills. Call your legislators and ask them to support these bills.

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