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Tentative $45 billion Missouri budget keeps minimum teacher pay hike

House Budget Chair Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, and Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, during the conference committee on Missouri's budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, left, and Senate Appropriations Chair Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, during the conference committee Wednesday on Missouri's budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Missouri is set to increase its 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 House left around $1.8 billion unspent when passing its 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 passage 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 raise 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, it 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, said two House members on the committee, has caused 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 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 allocating $37 million toward the Career Ladder program, which allows more experienced teachers to earn more.

Another Senate item that remained in the agreed-upon budget is 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 for child care at two high schools in the St. Louis Public Schools district.

Unprecedented funds enables other spending

K-12 education was not the only area that saw investments credited to the state’s record revenue.

Within the Department of Transportation, the state allotted an additional $7 million to go toward state public transit assistance.

A decreased compromise of $3.5 million was reversed after several senators, including 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 went with the Senate’s proposal to invest $500 million in 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 toward the Rock Island Trail, while initially slashed by the Senate, also made the final cut.

The committee allocated an additional $241 million for water infrastructure grants and loans, totaling over $781 million. Of that funding, over $7 million 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.

Measures 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.

Although that House bill has made it out of committee with a Senate substitute and is being treated as a budget bill, unlike with the operating budget, the legislature is not constitutionally obligated to pass it.

Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, expressed doubt Wednesday about the ability of 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

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.