With some Republican lawmakers skeptical of Gov. Mike Parson’s plan, new teachers in Missouri may not get the wage rise he hoped for.
Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Monday that he is withdrawing the governor’s proposal to raise the starting teacher wage from next year’s budget for the time being. He said he doesn’t know what the long-term consequences would be, not just for school districts but also for the state.
“Do we need to pay teachers more?” Smith told the members of the committee. “Absolutely. Is this the right way to do it? I’m not sure.”
Teachers in the Show-Me State start at $25,000, the lowest in the country and about 20% lower than the national average.
“It’s really hard, especially when you’re on the border, to stay in Missouri and work when you could go across the border and make more,” said Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City. “This was simply a minor boost to those making the least amount of money.”
During his State of the State speech in January, Parson informed lawmakers that he intends to pay $38,000 for new instructors.
“Half of our new teachers leave the profession by their fifth years,” Parson said. “This is unacceptable, and we must do better.”
Smith believes that something needs to be done, but he isn’t convinced this is the best way to go about it.
“This piece does nothing for the compression that would be caused between starting teachers and tenured teachers,” Smith said. “So the ones that have been there for a while would not be receiving any increase related to this, it would just be for new teachers.”
The state would be liable for 30% of the hike under Parson’s proposal, while the district would be responsible for the rest.
“I would love to see us discuss this more because there are some little school districts out there that this gave them a lot of heartburn, that this gave them some genuine stomach-turning,” said Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly.
Approximately 4,000 teachers in the state earn between $25,000 and $35,000 per year, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
“What I see here is instead of trying to do something to address this shortage is again, we’re passing that buck,” Nurrenbern said. “What’s really startling is where we are going to be in five years from now. If we don’t start to address something soon, I’m afraid of where we could land.”
If the General Assembly wishes, Smith said he’s prepared to put the $22 million needed to fund the hike back into the budget.
“I will say now, and I will say as often as we talk about this, that I do think we need to do something about teacher pay in Missouri. That’s clear,” Smith said. “I’m not sure this is the best approach I’ve heard.”
Rep. Scott Cupps, R-Shell Knob, said he spoke with educators in his district who provide extra compensation to instructors who assist and coach students in extracurricular activities.
“If we take that approach from a state standpoint, I think we can address this without it being the can of worms that we would open by doing it the way it was structured,” Cupps said.
The budget committee will convene later this week to make adjustments to the draft law, with members having the option of reintroducing the hike into the budget.
Teachers in Missouri have one of the greatest pension schemes in the country, according to lawmakers, but they must remain in the classroom for at least five years to be vested. According to TeacherPension.org, Missouri has the highest contribution rate among its neighboring states.
By May 6, both the House and the Senate must have passed the budget.