Missouri Lawmakers Want to Raise Teacher Pay but Anticipate Senate Resistance

Missouri ranks 50th in average starting teacher pay, but legislators have a plan to boost salaries statewide.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, speaks in a House Elementary and Secondary Education hearing in April 2023 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent)

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Legislation boosting teacher recruitment and retention in Missouri is once again a priority of the Missouri House, with a hearing Wednesday morning on a pair of Republican-backed bills.

Rep. Ed Lewis, a Republican from Moberly, is sponsoring legislation based on the findings of the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s blue ribbon commission. It is the third year he has sponsored legislation on teacher recruitment and retention.

“The problem is obvious to all of us at this point,” he told the committee. “We don’t have enough teachers for our public schools and, to some extent, for the private and parochial schools as well.”

After three years in a Missouri school district, an average 43.3% of teachers leave, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

According to the Missouri National Education Association, a teachers’ union, the state ranks 50th in average starting teacher pay and 47th in average teacher pay.

Lewis’s bill seeks to raise the base teacher pay, allow differentiated salary schedules for hard-to-staff areas and increase scholarships to recruit teachers, among other provisions.

Rep. Ann Kelley, a Republican from Lamar, asked whether support staff could be added to the bill.

“The schools cannot be successful without the support staff, and the salaries of the support staff and retention and retaining those support staff is vital,” Kelley said.

Lewis was hesitant to increase the potential fiscal impact.

“We’re gonna have a hard time getting anything across the finish line on the other side,” he said, referring to the Senate.

Last year, he filed the teacher pay-raise proposals as separate bills before the committee combined them into one bill. The House overwhelmingly approved the legislation on a 145-5 vote, but filibusters in the Senate ran out the clock before it could be debated in that chamber.

Rep. Willard Haley, a Republican from Eldon, is also sponsoring a bill to raise teachers’ minimum salary — though his ask is a bit different. He hopes to raise the base to $46,000 by the 2027-28 school year. Fully implemented, the bill is estimated to cost up to $17.5 million.

“I just insist that it’s time that we start paying our teachers what they deserve,” Haley said.

He said teenagers with a high-school diploma can make more working at a local factory than some teachers do.

Currently, state statute allows schools to pay teachers as little as $25,000 or $33,000 for those with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience.

The state has a grant program, which is up for renewal annually, to raise teacher base salaries to $38,000. In the current school year, 310 school districts are using the grant for a total of 4,806 teachers, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told The Independent.

Gov. Mike Parson has requested an increase to this program to raise the base to $40,000 for the next fiscal year.

Lewis doesn’t like relying on the annual appropriations for teacher salaries. He said he worries, with an upcoming gubernatorial election, the next governor may not fully fund the base-salary grant.

“I don’t think we should legislate through the budget. I think that the policy should go first and the budget should follow,” he told the committee.

Haley’s bill prescribes a fund that would match district’s contributions 70/30 to get salaries to his preferred base.

Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, a Columbia Democrat, said she wanted a “broader” change.

“I look at our large school districts… 52% of our districts will see no impact from state dollars towards teacher salaries,” she said. “I feel pretty confident if we ask those districts ‘Are you having a retention problem?’ They would probably all say yes.”

Rep. Dan Stacy, a Republican from Blue Springs, asked if a base-pay increase could be tied to a decrease to another part of the budget. Haley said his bill is “top priority.”

“This is such a priority item that we must handle this,” he said. “We must fulfill this funding even at a cost to some other things. But education is that important to me.”

No one testified in opposition to the legislation Wednesday.

Perry Gorrell, interim legislative liaison for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said raising the base teacher pay is the Commissioner of Education’s top priority.

“We know that the greatest impact on student achievement is having highly qualified teachers for students. These two bills helped to ensure that,” he said.

Otto Fajen, lobbyist for the Missouri branch of the National Education Association, said the teachers’ union would like lawmakers to consider small schools with under 100 kids when looking at funding.

“While not that many of our members are going to benefit directly from the increase here, it sends a message that the legislature believes that entry pay and, overall, the earnings for teachers should resemble similar professions to make it a more viable choice going forward,” Fajen said.

Steve Carroll, a lobbyist representing the Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City and St. Louis Public Schools, said he woke up at nearly 4 a.m. thinking about these bills.

He felt like his anxiety was pointless because the bills “probably won’t even make it across the finish line because of what’s going on in the Senate.”

But he saw the salary of a baseball player in a news article and marveled at society’s “priorities.” He believes teachers are the ones more deserving of higher pay.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

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