Theme One: Recruitment and Retention

Strategy A: Compensate Educators Competitively

Nationally, low salary scales continue to negatively impact the educator pipeline, as well as, retention of practicing teachers. Compared to college-educated professionals in other fields, beginning teachers earn about 20% less, with the gap widening to 30% by mid-career. A lack of competitive compensation for teaching professionals is one factor that has led to the nationwide teacher shortage. Highly qualified high school graduates who may be interested in teaching increasingly opt for careers that are more financially viable. Potential “career changers” who wish to move into classroom teaching often face a decrease in salary—a barrier that may prove difficult to overcome. Flat salaries also impact teacher attrition, with mid-career teachers exiting the profession or moving to higher paying districts.1

Maine data mirrors these national trends. The datasupport the need for more competitive compensation in order to attract and retain a high-quality teacher workforce. According to Morris and Johnson, (2018), “Salary level remains strongly correlated to school (teacher) retention rates even after school size, poverty level, and locale are held constant”.2

In 2019, the Maine DOE met with state-wide stakeholders (teachers, administrators, higher education staff, community members, policymakers) via regional think tanks, meetings, and interactive conference sessions to discuss educator excellence, recruitment, and retention. Throughout the state, compensation consistently ranked as one of the most significant factors affecting stakeholders’ ability to attract and retain well-qualified teachers.

In 2019, Maine took a significant step in addressing overall teacher compensation with a change in statute (20-A M.R.S. §13407), which increases the minimum pay for certified teachers in Maine from $30,000 to $40,000 over a period of three years:

  • Fiscal Year 20-21: $35,000
  • Fiscal Year 21 -22: $37,500
  • Fiscal Year 23-24: $40,000

These scheduled salary increases for Maine’s teachers are an important step in addressing salary inequities among school administrative units throughout the state. Raising salaries of Early Childhood Educators (birth – 5, public pre-K partnerships), as well as Adult Education teachers would strengthen the educator workforce serving Maine’s youngest learners and Maine’s adult learners.

In addition to teacher compensation, state and local leaders should also explore options that provide targeted support to address more specific needs, financial stipends for teacher leadership and expertise, and alternative, innovative compensation strategies.

Actions to achieve this goal include:

A1: Financial Incentives for High-needs Subjects and Locations

School administrative units (SAUs) find filling teaching positions challenging for certain high-needs subjects and in high-need locations. Rural SAUs, smaller schools, schools with comparatively high poverty rates, and schools with high numbers of English Learners are particularly challenged.  

Based on Maine’s 2021-2022 shortage list, positions difficult to fill include: Early Childhood (Pre-K), Early Elementary (K-3), Students with Disabilities, Health, English-Second Language, Mathematics, Middle Level Science, Physical Science, French, Spanish, Physical Education, Adapted Physical Education, Industrial Arts/Technology, and Gifted/Talented. Career and Technical Education schools also have positions that are difficult to fill. These include programs that prepare youth for the following careers: firefighter, EMT, automotive mechanics, truck/bus drivers, automotive repair, diesel engine mechanic, carpentry, marine maintenance, electrician, computer info services, machine toll operator/shop, weld braze solder, building maintenance, plumbing, agricultural production, production manager, childcare/guidance, and business admin/manager.  Attracting educators to these content and technical areas would increase opportunities and access to these careers for Maine students.

Examples of programs to attract high need educators include: 

Colorado Rural Teaching Stipend: Teacher candidates who agree to student-teach in a rural district and remain in any rural district for 3 years upon graduation with a teaching degree are eligible for a stipend. Additionally, teachers can earn stipends if they teach in a high-needs subject area (science, math, special education), or if they teach in districts with high levels of cultural and linguistic diversity. 

South Carolina’s Rural Recruitment Initiative provides an annual salary stipend of $1,500 for teachers in high turnover districts who teach in critical subject areas. This initiative also includes additional strategies, such as housing support, travel stipends for commuters, certification examination support, and loan forgiveness.4 

A2: Financial Incentives for Teacher Expertise and Teacher Leadership

Providing a stipend, or some other form of financial bonus, to teachers for their leadership and expertise can help alleviate the wage gap impacting mid-career teachers and may reduce the rate of teacher attrition. 

Some states increase compensation for the following teacher leadership roles and responsibilities: 

  • leading teacher professional development 
  • facilitating instructional leadership teams 
  • mentoring beginning teachers 
  • serving as a model or coach for other teachers 

Many states, including Maine, offer a salary supplement for teachers who have earned National Board Certification. National Board Certification, created in 1987 by teachers for teachers, is a voluntary, highly reflective professional development opportunity. Research shows increased learning in students who are taught by National Board-Certified teachers, and in terms of retention, a recent South Carolina study shows National Board Certification to be a proven strategy for retaining highly-effective educators in the classroom.  

Since 2014, Maine has provided an annual salary supplement to National Board-Certified Teachers (NBCTs). In 2019, with an update to statute (20-A M.R.S. §13013-A) Maine joined Arkansas, Washington, Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin in providing an increased salary supplement to NBCTs teaching in high-needs schools. In Maine, the increased Salary Supplement is paid to NBCTs who are employed in a school in which 50% or more of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. 

The Maine Legislature, Maine Department of Education, and SAUs are also encouraged to collaborate with other established Maine organizations, associations, and Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) to implement increased compensation for educators who successfully complete leadership programs.  

SAUs in Maine vary in the levels at which they compensate teacher leadership roles. (Teacher leadership models are explored in greater depth in Strategy I: Develop and Support High-quality Teacher Leadership.) If Maine is to provide equitable compensation for its teacher leaders, it should consider a state-wide teacher leadership career ladder, such as the one implemented in Iowa in 2013. 

The Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) Program5 establishes a five-tier career ladder for teachers, with the top three tiers carrying increased responsibilities and increased compensation ($2,000, $5,000, and $10,000). This initiative has both increased teacher retention and has had a positive impact on instructional practices and the professional climate in participating districts.  

A3: Alternative Compensation Strategies

Maine’s stakeholder groups encouraged SAUs and state agencies to experiment with creative compensation alternatives, including housing, transportation, utilities, childcare, creative use of time, and sabbaticals.  

Nationally, 25% of former teachers report that housing assistance would encourage them to return to the classroom.6 In Maine, stakeholders reported a need for more affordable housing for educators in cities and towns in the southern part of the state, as well as, in coastal communities located in Hancock and Washington counties.  

Housing incentives have been implemented successfully in urban and rural locations throughout the country. In urban areas such as Hartford, Chicago, and Indianapolis, districts have offered housing assistance in a variety of forms, including working with nonprofits to make available newly renovated houses to teachers at below-market costs, offering affordable rentals in designated teacher residential apartment buildings, and home down payment assistance. In Arizona, one district worked with a local credit union to help teachers finance mortgages on customized tiny homes.7  

As mentioned in strategy A1, South Carolina’s Rural Recruitment Initiative includes housing in their “approved incentives list”. Districts who take advantage of the housing incentive receive funding for the down payment of an apartment building, which they in turn renovate and rent to their teachers at affordable rates. With the rental income covering districts’ mortgage payments, this is a workable and positive solution for teachers and districts.  

Offering housing assistance sends a message to prospective educators that they are valued not only for their professional expertise, but also as desired members of the community. Educators who live in the community in which they teach potentially gain a rich understanding of the culture and norms that influence their students’ lives. Opportunities for extended connections through coaching, advising, and attending school and community events strengthens relationships with students and their families, which may lead to better academic and social outcomes for students. 

Teachers throughout Maine agreed that creative use of time would be a welcome alternative to support and retain experienced educators in place of a salary increase or financial bonuses. Suggestions include flex time, early release/late start days, job sharing, and increased professional learning.   

Sabbaticals lasting for a semester, or a year are frequently associated with higher education, but many districts throughout the country recognize the benefit of offering Pre-K-12 teachers this extended leave. One example of a robust sabbatical program is found in Rochester City School District in New York, which has up to five of its teachers taking advantage of their sabbatical program in any given year, recharging their teaching batteries via extended coursework, travel, or a combination of both. Teachers taking advantage of this opportunity receive 60% of their salary, retain full benefits, and are expected to share their new learning with colleagues upon their return to the district.8 Maine’s statute (20-A M.R.S.§13604 ) permits leaves of absence for up to one year for experienced educators (minimum of 7 years of service), to be granted by local school boards. Several districts in Maine include sabbatical language in their contracts. 

Footnotes Strategy A

1 Espanoza, D., Saunders, R., Kini, T., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2018). Taking the long view: State efforts to solve teacher shortages by strengthening the teaching profession. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

2 Morris, L. & Johnson, A. (2018). Teacher turnover in Maine: Analysis of staffing patterns from 2005-06 to 2016-2017.
Gorham, ME: Maine Education Policy Research Institute.

3 Colorado Center for Rural Education. (n.d.). Colorado rural teaching stipend. Accessed 2020, March 31.

4 Unpublished data from the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention & Advancement. (Personal communication, 2020, January 21).

5 Iowa Department of Education: Teacher Leadership and Compensation System. Accessed 2020, March 31.

6 Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Solving the teacher shortage: How to attract and retain excellent educators. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

Simmons, A. (2018, July 17). Can Affordable Housing Ease Teacher Turnover? | Edutopia. Edutopia; George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Stark, Lisa. “Paid Sabbaticals for K-12 Teachers? This District Embraces the Idea (Video).” Education Week, Accessed 15 Nov. 2021

Strategy B: Increase Scholarship and Loan Forgiveness Programs

There is a considerable financial commitment for becoming and remaining a qualified educator in Maine. Costs range from $15,000 for one-year graduate-level preparation at a public university, to over $100,000 for a four-year private school baccalaureate degree. On average, new teachers have over $20,000 in student loan debt for a bachelor’s degree and $50,000 for a master’s degree. Combined with low starting salaries, this debt is a challenge for beginning teachers.9 Well-prepared teachers increase student learning and remain in the profession longer.10 However, the cost of preparation is increasingly difficult to afford and paying for a teacher’s undergraduate and continuing education often falls solely on the professional.

Financial assistance for pre-service and graduate teacher education programs can take the form of service loans, grants, and scholarships. Service loans can be forgiven after a specified number of years teaching, thereby creating incentive to remain in teaching through the most difficult years of induction. A thirty-year study of over 11,000 new teachers found high retention and increased student learning linked to loan forgiveness.11 A limited number of grants and scholarships are awarded by government entities, corporate and private foundations, religious, and social organizations. Many of the scholarships range from $500 - $1,000. Increasing access to scholarships and forgiveness of loans for pre-service and in-service teachers requires a substantial increase in grant funding, as well as a robust centralized system of communication about the available programs and technical support for individuals to access the programs.

Actions to further address this goal include:

B1: Expand Service Loan Forgiveness and Tax Incentive Programs

Forgiveness of student loans in exchange for service in high need areas is a well-established practice in the medical field. Many states provide this for educators at the state level. Student loan forgiveness creates financial opportunities for individuals for whom becoming a teacher would otherwise be beyond their financial capabilities. Many loan forgiveness programs require a five- or ten-year service commitment. Additionally, loan forgiveness benefits could bring a highly qualified, diversified educator workforce to Maine by providing the financial opportunity to enter teaching for some candidates for whom teaching would not be a financially viable option otherwise. Expanding education opportunity tax credits and simplifying the application process could also support new educators.  

In Maine, the Educators for Maine Program provides loan forgiveness and loan repayment options. To qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation, a borrower's qualifying teaching service must be performed at a school or an Education Service Agency (ESA) that is listed in the TCLI (Teacher Cancellation Low Income) Directory.  

B2: Increase Awareness of Funding Sources

While funding may be available to assist educators in financing their preparation and continuing education, accessing this information may be challenging. The State of Maine has designated the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) as the administrator of programs including federal programs, the Paul Douglas Teacher Scholarship, PELL Grants, and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program. FAME indicated that in 2018 over ten million dollars in PELL grants were unused in Maine.12 Building structures to ensure these funds are fully utilized would serve Maine well.  

Many grants and loan forgiveness programs rely upon the (TCLI) Directory. The TCLI Directory lists low-income elementary schools, secondary schools, and ESAs that are tuition assistance-eligible schools. The US Department of Education develops the TCLI Directory with input from states.  

To facilitate educators’ access to available funds, a comprehensive database for available pre-service and graduate education grants and loan forgiveness programs should be developed. This expanded online database of loans and grants available would provide more equitable assistance for all Maine students. 


Footnotes Strategy B

9 U.S. Department of Education. (2015). Web tables: Trends in graduate student financing: Selected years, 1995–96 to 2011–12. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Accessed 2018 August 23.  

10 Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2010). Teacher credentials and student achievement in high school: A cross-subject analysis with student fixed effects. Journal of Human Resources, 45(3), 655–681.

11 Henry, G. T., Bastian, K. C., & Smith, A. A. (2012). Scholarships to recruit the ‘best and brightest’ into teaching: Who is recruited, where do they teach, how effective are they, and how long do they stay? Educational Researcher, 41(3), 83–92.

12 Over $10M Dollars Left on the Table by Maine College Students in 2018 - FAME Maine. (n.d.). FAME Maine. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from