Maine teachers are essential to a successful future

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by Sen. Jim Dill

Every May, as the school year heads into its final stretch, we take a moment to honor and appreciate our nation’s teachers. The women and men who devote their lives to education are the pillars of communities and economy as they prepare the next generation of young people for the workforce, military, higher education or in some cases, adulthood in general.

Most Mainers can tell you about that one teacher who completely changed their way of thinking, encouraged them to try new things or steered them out of trouble and into the right direction. Mine was Ron Corbin, a high school biology teacher who inspired me to study science and become an entomologist. It led me to where I am in my career today.

The impact of just one teacher on a student’s life can last a lifetime. In fact, a 2012 Harvard study revealed that good teachers lead to long-term positive outcomes for students beyond educational achievement. Students with effective teachers are far less likely to engage in risky behavior as teenagers and more likely to earn higher wages as adults.

This year’s teacher appreciation week could not come at a more relevant time. Educators all across the country are walking out of the classroom and striking for adequate school funding, a living wage and basic school supplies. And to be honest, I don’t think that is too much to ask for. Our teachers are overworked and undervalued. They deserve better and frankly so do our children.

In a recent survey of public school teachers, NPR found that teachers are incredibly overworked and underpaid. Most teachers not only help students on their own time but many also work a second job just to pay their bills. In fact, 8 in 10 teachers actually use their own money to purchase school supplies and classroom necessities. This paints a sad picture of how we treat our teachers. The least we can do for our teaching workforce is ensure they have the basic tools to do their job and pay them a fair wage.

While teachers wages have declined dramatically in some states like Arizona, Oklahoma and West Virginia, the wages of Maine’s teachers has remained relatively the same over the past fifteen years when adjusted for inflation.

State education funding has also declined in the past ten years due to the 2008 recession. What’s unfortunate is despite the economic recovery, most states have not restored education funding to pre-recession levels. And it adversely affects our students and teachers.

In Maine, the state is supposed to pay for 55 percent of education costs with local communities and the federal government covering the remaining costs. While lawmakers did put more education funding in the budget, the state still isn’t paying its fair share, shifting much of the burden onto local districts. I am hopeful that when we return next session we take a hard look at the budget to see what we can do to come closer to this level.

Now schools and communities are waiting for the Legislature to pass a routine technical education bill which specifies the local share of education funding for various municipalities and a general purpose aid to schools bill. But because of the impasse in the House of Representatives, these bills remain in limbo as does a bill concerning proficiency-based diplomas. This issue is a priority for when and if the governor calls lawmakers into a special legislative session.

Teaching is an incredibly rewarding career and the entire state benefits. Let’s show appreciation to the unparalleled commitment and dedication of our teachers by properly funding our schools and paying our teachers fairly.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by email at JamesDill207@gmail.com or by phone at (207) 827-3498.