The Missouri Senate added back funding for teacher raises and school transportation costs in the state budget on Tuesday, reversing a House decision to withhold the money.
An extra $31 million has been added to the House-passed $46.5 billion budget to raise the statewide minimum teacher compensation from $25,000 to $38,000.
Governor Mike Parson has asked $10 million more than that, making the hikes one of his top objectives in the budget. When it comes to recruiting and keeping teachers in this low-paying state, the state education department and local school districts have all advocated for increased salary as a critical tool.
The Senate also approved an extra $36 million to raise the wages of instructors with more than five years of experience. However, Democrats wanted a beginning pay raise to be included with that money, which received bipartisan support during House deliberations.
After budget chair Sen. Dan Hegeman of Cosby brought in more over $214 million in funds, transportation expenditures for public schools will be completely paid. Republican leaders have already thwarted previous efforts by Democrats in the House to include more funds for transportation.
To some extent, the extra $245 million in education funding could ease pressure on school districts struggling with personnel shortages. School bus drivers in Springfield, which is the state’s biggest public school district, received a rise in their beginning wage in December, while about a quarter of schools in the state have adopted four-day school weeks, with some citing teachers’ workloads as the major reason.
Only a part of the extra funds that the Senate is likely to grant will be accounted for by these new additions. With a record surplus and federal stimulus monies available, House Republicans chose for a conservative approach to spending, leaving $1.8 billion unspent. However, Senate GOP leaders have stated they aim to utilize far more.
Senators rejected the governor’s proposal to put aside $281 million for a “rainy day fund.” They reversed a modification by the House aiming to stretch it over five years and awarded the entire $500 million asked by Parson to put into the state’s retirement system.
The Republican-led House Budget Committee voted against a plan to award tax credits of up to $500, which they said would offer assistance at a time of rising inflation and living expenses.
There were no new developments in Democrats’ opposition to this measure, which they claim excludes low-income and elderly people who may most benefit. According to a study by the Missouri Budget Project, a non-profit that focuses on state budget issues, the plan would “leave out one-third of Missouri taxpayers.”
However, unlike the Senate’s comparable measure, the tax credits are not refundable. As a result, married couples filing jointly would be eligible for up to $1,000 in tax credits. Democrat attempts to make the fees refundable were thwarted.
In response to a Democratic proposal, Rep. Hannah Kelly, a Mountain Grove Republican, stated, “I’m going to be voting against this so we can take care of the people who are working hard and holding down the fort when it would be an easier option not to.”
Dems countered, saying they had made amendments to the bill that would still apply to individuals who were now employed.
Representative Peter Merideth, the committee’s top Democrat from St. Louis, said, “If you don’t want to give impoverished people $500, just say so.” Why? “Because that’s the true point of this talk.”
“If you don’t want to give poor folks $500, just say it,” said Rep. Peter Merideth of St. Louis, the head Democrat on the committee. “Because that’s what this conversation is really about.”
The bill was approved by the committee on a vote of 19-8, with only minor linguistic tweaks. Rep. Cody Smith of Carthage, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said the measure will be debated on the House floor tomorrow before being approved in its final form later this week.
It’s not clear how it will fare in the Senate this week, when senators are focusing on the budget and a slew of other issues.
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s vice chair, Lincoln Hough, made many modifications to the budget on Tuesday. If he wins re-election, he will head the committee next year.
Care to Learn, a group established in southwest Missouri that works to satisfy the “health, hunger, and hygiene” needs of schoolchildren, received $2.5 million of the new funds.
Republican Sen. Karla Eslinger of Wasola, another member from the area, called it a “very good program” and said she “loves seeing this addition.”
Adding $4 million in government money, Hough also increased the number of home visits for children and families living in regions at risk of poor maternal and child health.