JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Missouri teachers are two votes and a governor’s signature away from having their minimum wage increased by $13,000. However, it’s possible some school districts may not see money from the state.
The Show-Me State has the lowest teacher pay in the nation, and it’s nearly 20% under the national average. This is why lawmakers have given initial approval of raising it to $38,000 a year. If there are districts that have teachers already making $38,000, they won’t see the extra money.
It’s the largest spending plan in state history, roughly $46 billion, and education has been a big priority.
“We fully funded the transportation formula for the first time in my life in public office,” Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield) said Thursday.
Lawmakers have allocated $214 million for school transportation, the first time it’s been fully funded since 1991. Another big win for educators is a raise in their baseline pay.
“We’re in a teacher shortage crisis, and it’s much more different to attract people into the classroom,” said Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City). “Our neighbors have much higher starting teacher rates. In terms of making sure we have quality educators in the classroom and that we’re attracting into right people into the classroom, I think this is an important message.”
Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is being spent to increase minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $38,000. The state would pay for 70% of the raise and the rest is on the district, but the money is only available for schools where currently teachers make less than $38,000.
“There was some concern where I come from with the $38,000 and the fact that if everybody had to go to that level to access the funds, it was not sustainable and not worth the risk of the one-time money,” said Rep. Rusty Black (R-Chillicothe).
After the House and the Senate passed different versions of the budget, members of both chambers met Wednesday to find a compromise. Both Black and Rep. Dirk Deaton (R-Noel) were hesitant about the increase.
“We budget for one year, this money,” Deaton said. “If there is a tough budget year in a couple of years, is this going to be there? Are they going to be left holding the bag? With my small rural districts concern, it might ultimately force consolidation as well if we try to go too far too fast.”
Members from the Senate all spoke in favor of the raise.
“I know as a state, we are way below the national average for what we pay our teachers,” said Sen. Carla Eslinger (R-Wasola). “And I really truly think that we have to take a position and make a stand to make sure education is valued in our state and the people who are providing that education are valued.”
The committee reached a compromise taking the governor’s recommendation of $38,000 a year, costing the state $21 million. There’s also $37 million for the Career Ladder program in the budget, giving raises to experienced teachers. Under the state statute, teachers who take professional credits, mentor students, or participate in extracurricular activities fall under the program.
Higher education is also getting a boost in funds, with $10 million going to community colleges.
“Community colleges in my opinion are against a very direct line to an educated and skilled workforce in this state,” Hegeman said.
Aside from the increase in community colleges, all higher education institutions received a 5.4% funding increase and additional money for their retirement plans.
There’s also $50 million in the budget to help students recover from learning losses, which occurred while schools were closed during the pandemic.
Another budget item approved by the Senate committee includes $2.4 million to fully fund the twice-daily Amtrak service, known as the Missouri River Runner, which runs between St. Louis and Kansas City. The train was reduced to one trip a day back in January due to a lack of funding.
Uncertainty in the budget comes with nearly $3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for infrastructure projects. The money has yet to be debated on the Senate floor, even though there is a due date of 6 p.m. Friday. The ARPA funds don’t have to be allocated until 2024 and spent by 2026, but communities are waiting to spend the money.
“I don’t like doing things in haste, and we are coming down to the wire,” Hugh said. “So unless we have a good plan that is a lot of good infrastructure improvements around the state for these funds, I’m not opposed to taking a minute, taking the summer and fall to meet with the House, Senate, and stakeholders around the state to figure out where we are best utilizing these dollars.”
These funds will be used for things like sidewalk and intersection improvements, wastewater projects, and broadband.
“Things that when you’re a low tax state like Missouri is, we often don’t have the resources available to put into those things,” Hough said.
Hough said that if the General Assembly does not get the ARPA bill to the governor’s desk by the Friday deadline, there’s a chance the governor could call a special session.
The overall $46 billion budget needs one final vote from each chamber which will come Friday.