JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Teachers in Missouri could be getting a raise if their school district enrolls in a program funded by the state.
The Show-Me State’s cash flow is at an all-time high. Back in January, Gov. Mike Parson sent lawmakers a $47 billion budget request in January during his State of the State address. While in representatives’ hands, the lower chamber has made some changes, including allocating more money to teachers.
“We’re the least funded K-12 [kindergarten through 12th grade] education by the state out of any state in the country,” said Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) on the floor Tuesday. “We do have among the lowest-paid teachers in the country in our state.”
It’s budget time in the Missouri House. The overall spending plan is worth more than $46 billion. Tuesday, members spent more than eight hours debating several bills. A big chunk of time was spent on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) budget.
“Why are school districts stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to determining whether they can fund school transportation or a slight bump in salary increases for their teachers and support staff or after-school programming,” said Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern (D-Kansas City).
The starting salary for teachers in the Show-Me State is $25,000, the lowest in the country and nearly 20% under the national average. During his State of the State, Parson asked lawmakers to increase pay to $38,000 for new educators.
“Fix the governor’s proposal because I think we did all agree it was flawed and actually created more problems than it fixed,” Merideth said.
DESE said last year there are roughly 4,000 teachers in the state the make between $25,000 and $35,000 annually.
Last week, Nurrenbern offered a proposal to the House Budget Committee to allocate the $21 million for raises to the Career Ladder program, giving raises to experienced teachers. The amendment had bipartisan support and was approved by the entire chamber Tuesday.
“In the process of discussing that we realized we already had a great model to help add some state money to maybe some of those teachers’ salaries through the Career Ladder,” said Rep. Scott Cupps (R-Shell Knob).
Cupps offered an amendment adding an additional $15.6 million to the program, sending nearly $37 million to the Career Ladder program. The last time lawmakers funded the initiative was in 2010.
“Career Ladder is good for our public schools because it gives teachers an incentive to spend more time with students,” Nurrenbern said.
Under the state statute, teachers who take professional credits, mentor students, or participate in extracurricular activities fall under the program.
Nurrenbern said there are 125 school districts out of the 518 in the state that will be moving to four-day weeks next year due to a lack of transportation and teachers.
“This is not money we are taking a risk with, we have the money,” Merideth said. “We’ve been trying to find ways to support transportation costs, well we have the money now, let’s do it.”
The amendment offered by Democrats to spend $214 to fully reimburse transportation was rejected.
A point of contention on the budget for DESE is language regarding COVID vaccines.
“If you have an event that’s open to the public and you take in taxpayer dollars, you cannot require a vaccine passport or inquire about the vaccination status or testing status of those people looking to attend the event,” said House budget chair Rep. Cody Smith (R-Carthage).
That addition was added to nearly all the budget bills, concerning some of what it means for events offered at schools.
“If a university had a concert on their campus and the artist required vaccines, they would have to pay back the funding on that venue,” said Rep. Betsy Fogle (D-Springfield). “If a daycare wanted to invite families in for a movie night and that daycare received state funds, they would have to pay back the state because they asked for a vaccine card.”
On the same day of debate in the House, the state’s budget office released that the net general revenue if up from $7.85 billion last year at this time to $8.29 billion currently.
House members also approved the governor’s request of giving all higher education universities and colleges a 5.3% funding increase.
Fogle offered an amendment, which was approved, allocated $20 million to cover childcare costs for small businesses and essential employees.
In the transportation budget, Smith said $2.4 million will fully fund the twice-daily Amtrak service that runs between St. Louis and Kansas City, known as the River Runner. The train was reduced to one trip a day back in January due to a lack of funding.
Within the public safety budget bill, $4.4 million is allocated for body cameras for the Missouri Capitol Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. It also includes money for MSHP to buy a helicopter.
A provision offered by Smith to block state money from going to abortion facilities and their affiliates, like Planned Parenthood. Last month, Planned Parenthood, which has 11 facilities across the state, but the only location that offers abortion is in St. Louis, sued Missouri for similar language in the emergency supplemental budget bill.
One of the biggest differences between the governor’s proposal and the House’s version of the budget is how much money should be spent on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Parson recommended $3.2 billion to be spent in the next fiscal year, but Smith said he would rather take a “bite-sized piece” instead of spending it all in one year.
“We have so much money we are sitting on right now,” Merideth said. “The governor’s proposals are thoughtful and more thoughtful than the work we’ve been able to do here.”
Senators are blaming representatives for not keeping the budget process on track. Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said he’s prepared to call a special session if need be if the budget isn’t passed by the time the session ends in May.
By law, the budget must be on the governor’s desk by May 6 at 6 p.m. Rowden said Senators won’t rush the process just to get it done. He also warned representatives that the upper chamber is ready to make big changes once the budget is in the Senate’s hands.
The House needs to give one final approval to the budget legislation, which could come later this week before it moves to the Senate.