Although Maine is still experiencing persistent teacher shortages, the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) saw a 40 percent increase in “initial and renewal educator certification applications” this summer compared to last year, according to an MDOE press release.
Between June and August of this year, the MDOE’s “certification team” processed 11,000 certification applications. Those applications include current those who are applying for their first teacher certification as well as current teachers who are renewing their certifications.
“While educator shortages persist across our state, this increase is encouraging and the Maine DOE is committed to doing everything we can to build and support the education workforce in our state,” Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin said.
“This is the most important work of our society and we want people to know that Maine is a state that respects, supports, and empowers our educators,” said Commissioner Makin. “If you want to become an educator in Maine, we want to make sure you have a pathway into the profession and that you are supported in the classroom.”
Despite the uptick in certification applications, many school districts throughout the state still faced a number of unfilled teaching positions as the school year approached.
The Maine Education Association (MEA) shared self-reported statistics with WMTW revealing a large number of open positions as of this August. Lewiston reported the highest percentage of unfilled positions at 3.71%, followed by Oxford Hills at 2.65% and Bangor at 2%.
MEA President Grace Leavitt said the situation is “alarming.”
“It’s a shortage of making those jobs doable, making the compensation what it needs to be, having the respect for the profession that is due,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt said “compensation is the number one issue” in terms of attracting and retaining teachers.
Given this focus, it is perhaps unsurprising that Gov. Janet Mills (D) made it an early priority in her administration to raise the minimum teacher’s salary to $40,000 a year.
This year, the state government has launched two separate initiatives both aimed at attracting and retaining teachers for Maine’s public schools.
Back in May, the MDOE announced the Teach Maine program, an initiative that aimed to “develop, support, and sustain a robust educator workforce in the state.”
The Teach Maine plan was designed to provide “a set of strategies and actions to inspire a talented and diverse future educator workforce, and to support and develop Maine’s current educator workforce.”
The program’s four themes were to “incentivize recruitment and retention efforts; expand and diversify educator workforce efforts; support educator development, growth, and leadership; and elevate educators and the education profession.”
More recently, Gov. Mills announced that she would be working to address the state’s teacher shortage by expanding pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs.
The initiative was funded in part by Mills’ Jobs & Recovery Plan, which was approved by the Legislature in 2021, as well as by the federal government.
According to Mills’ press release, the project “is supported by $600,000 in Federal funding, including $100,000 through the Governor’s Jobs Plan and $500,000 through U.S. Department of Labor’s State Apprenticeship Expansion, Equity, and Innovation (SAEEI) Grant.”
Schools and other education and community-related organizations can apply for funding — with awards up to $250,000 — to launch local educator pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeship programs.
The number and size of the grant awards will depend on the number of proposals received, which are due later this month.
Amidst this teacher shortage, students in Maine are also struggling academically.
Based on data from 2022, the 2023 Kids Count Data Book — published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation — found that 71 percent of fourth graders in Maine were not proficient in reading, representing a seven point increase over 2019. This is also three point higher than the nationwide percentage for 2022.
Similarly in 2022, 76 percent of eighth graders in the state were not proficient in math, two points more than the national percentage for the same year. This also represents a ten point increase in Maine compared to data from 2019.
Earlier this year, Commissioner Makin told lawmakers on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee that traditional academic learning ought to be of lower priority in Maine’s school than social-emotional learning and diversity-equity-and-inclusion programing.
“Academic learning is definitely going to take a backseat to all of these other pieces,” Makin told the committee members back in March.
“Your child who is in a classroom who observes the marginalization or bullying or diminishing of another human being, that creates fear in the uninvolved child who is in that setting,” she said. “It creates conditions that are averse to the high academic goals that we set for our students.”