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Missouri governor signs $468M education bill that boosts teacher pay, expands charters

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivers the State of the State address as House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, left, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe, right, clap during a joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, at the state capitol in Jefferson City.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivers the State of the State address as House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, left, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe, right, clap during a joint session of the House and Senate last January in Jefferson City.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation Tuesday that boosts the minimum salary for teachers, changes the formula for funding public schools and expands a tax-credit scholarship for private schools.

It also allows charter schools in Boone County and requires a public vote for districts seeking to go to a four-day school week.

When fully implemented, the legislation is estimated to cost roughly $468 million a year.

Parson signed the bill a day before the constitutional deadline to take action. His weekly schedule did not announce his intention to sign the legislation.

In a brief press release, he focused on the raise for teachers, which would boost minimum salary from $25,000 to $40,000 a year.

“I have and always will support Missouri teachers. Since the beginning of our administration, we’ve looked at ways to increase teacher pay and reward our educators for the hard work they do, and this legislation helps us continue that progress,” he said. “We ask a lot of our educators when it comes to teaching and caring for our children.”

Dean Johnson, CEO of K-12 education policy group Quality Schools Coalition, focused on investments in pre-k and teacher pay in a statement sent to the press following Parson’s signature.

“For too many years, Missouri education policy has been stagnant, lacking both a commitment to reform and a lack of resources,” he said. “The law signed by Gov. Parson today smartly brings new investments in Missouri’s educational future and will directly lead to better paid teachers and better prepared students.”

Johnson is one of few advocates for public education that has spoken in favor of the legislation.

A collaborative of 41 school districts called the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence wrote a letter to the governor, first reported by the Webb City Sentinel, raising concerns about raising minimum teacher pay.

The districts worried that the mandate to increase pay did not come with guaranteed funding to make it happen.

“Increasing the minimum salary yearly per the consumer price index or inflation does not allow for a guarantee for state funding to follow indefinitely,” the school districts wrote. “Our member school districts are in complete agreement with this provision, except for the lack of any guarantees in the bill for required future funding.”

The Missouri School Boards’ Association crafted letters for school board members to send to the governor. For school districts paying teachers under $40,000, the letter addresses fears that the raise is an unfunded mandate.

“While there are provisions in this bill that increase statutory minimum teacher pay, the bill does not ensure state funding will be appropriated this year or any subsequent year to support such an increase,” the sample letter says. “Our district is funded in large part by local taxes, and I fear that if the teacher pay increase is funded at the expense of the foundation formula or school transportation or not funded at all, we as the board may be left to make up the difference with budget cuts or local tax increases.”

Seven Boone County school superintendents, representing all the local districts but Centralia, wrote to Parson on Friday asking for a veto.

The legislation authorizes charter schools in Boone County. Otherwise, charter schools are only allowed by state statute in Kansas City and St. Louis and in areas with unaccredited school districts. All of Boone County’s districts are currently accredited.

“Our districts include a tremendous range in student size and local revenue,” the superintendents wrote “The opening of a charter school and the depletion of state and local funds from our urban and rural districts will have a devastating effect on some of our continued ability to operate.”

They argue carving out Boone County might not pass legal muster.

Much of the opposition from public schools and associated organizations centers on the K-12 tax-credit scholarship expansion. The law, when enacted, will open the program statewide and increase the low-income qualifications from 200% of the free-and-reduced-lunch eligibility to 300%.

The income cap, for a family of four, would be $166,500, under this school year’s reduced lunch eligibility.

The legislation began as a 12-page proposal to expand the tax-credit scholarship program, called MOScholars. Lobbyists representing public education entities testified in opposition to the legislation throughout the session.

Senate Democrats led a filibuster of the legislation, leading to a compromise and a 167-page education package.

The House did not amend the bill, since any changes would send the legislation back to the Senate for renegotiation. Lawmakers found a way to make requested changes by adding them to a separate House bill, clarifying things such as that homeschools are exempt from the state law that prohibits guns on school grounds.

This fix calmed the Missouri homeschool advocacy organization Families for Home Education, which posted on Facebook that it now had a neutral stance on the bill. It had previously opposed the legislation, with many homeschooling families asking to be written out of the tax-credit scholarship program to avoid the potential of government oversight.

This story was originally published by The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Annelise Hanshaw is an education reporter for The Missouri Independent.