Missouri lawmakers reach a tentative budget deal that would raise starting salaries for teachers
The $45 billion budget includes millions for both starting and existing teacher salaries and school transportation. Missouri teachers have the lowest starting pay of any state in the U.S.
Missouri is set to increase the minimum starting teacher pay to $38,000 a year as part of a more than $45 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
A Missouri House and Senate conference committee discussed 13 budget bills during a span of around seven hours on Wednesday to reach a compromise on how to spend record amounts of money.
While the Missouri House left around $1.8 billion unspent when they passed their version of the budget in early April, the Senate’s budget, which members approved last week, allocated over $1 billion more.
“Hopefully we’ve provided many good things in the budget for a lot of different entities. It’s a good year to be able to do some transformative things as we move forward,” Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said.
Although the committee agreed on the budget bills, they still require passing in each chamber before they move on to Gov. Mike Parson. The budget must be approved by the end of the day Friday.
Some of the big-ticket items in the Senate version that remained in the agreed-upon budget revolve around public K-12 education.
The state will spend over $21 million to go toward raising starting teacher pay to the new minimum. It was a position originally proposed by Parson that the House declined to fund, while the Senate not only funded Parson’s proposal, but added $10 million more. The committee went back to the governor’s amount.
The state would pay for 70% of the raises with local funds making up the rest.
Making that match, according to two House members on the committee, has caused some concern for rural schools.
“I think that there'll be more sustainability and it’ll last longer with a lower dollar amount, or at a minimum, we allow schools to make that choice at the local level,” Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, said.
However, compromise language that would have only required a base pay of $34,000 while leaving enough revenue for schools to go up to a $38,000 minimum if they desired was met with bipartisan opposition from senators.
“I know that as a state we are way below the national average of what we pay our teachers. And I really truly think that we have to make a position and make a stand to make sure that education is valued in our state and the people who are providing that education are valued,” Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, said.
In addition to increasing pay for starting teachers, the state is also allocating $37 million towards the Career Ladder program, which allows more experienced teachers to earn more.
Another Senate item that remained in the agreed upon budget is the spending of over $214 million to fully fund the state’s share of school transportation.
“Let me make sure our education community understands this is one time, it's not to be counted on being there in years in the future,” Hegeman said.
On the House side, an allocation that survived the process was $500,000 to go toward childcare at two high schools in the St. Louis Public Schools district.
Unprecedented funds enables other spending
K-12 education was not the only area which saw investments credited to the state’s record revenue.
Within the Department of Transportation, the state allotted an additional $7 million to go towards state public transit assistance.
A decreased compromise of $3.5 million was reversed after several senators, including Democratic Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, lobbied for the full increase.
“Public transit probably directly and indirectly generates roughly $4 billion in revenue in the state, just considering the economic impact throughout the entire state,” Williams said.
The committee also went with the Senate’s proposal to invest $500 million into Missouri’s pension plan program for state employees, known as MOSERS, which Parson originally proposed. The House’s version, which was defeated in committee, would have allocated that $500 million over several years as opposed to all at once.
Over $1 million in funding proposed by the House to go towards the Rock Island Trail, while initially slashed by the Senate, also made the final cut.
The committee also allocated an additional $241 million to go towards water infrastructure grants and loans, totaling at over $781 million. Of that funding, over $7 million of it is from the state’s general revenue fund.
Additional budget bills to come
While the legislature has a Friday deadline to pass the operating budget, there are yet more budget bills to consider.
Legislation on capital improvements such as maintenance or renovations within state government, while they have passed the House, have yet to make it to the Senate floor.
Another budget bill contains federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. Missouri has billions of federal COVID-19 relief dollars and must allocate them by the end of 2024.
Though that House bill has made it out of committee with a Senate substitute and is being treated as a budget bill, unlike the operating budget, the legislature is not constitutionally obligated to pass it.
Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, expressed doubt Wednesday on the ability for the legislature to send that to Parson this year.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that the Senate chamber does not always function as we would imagine that it would,” Hough said.
Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg
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