A student high fives a wolf mascot while exiting a bus
Students arrive at Central Middle School on the first day of school, Aug. 22, in Kansas City. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Many key education issues in Missouri center around money. They include teacher pay, how the state distributes financial aid and the impact of economic development incentives on schools’ tax revenue. 

Before the 2023 legislative session began on Jan. 4, legislators filed about two dozen bills aimed at changing how the state handles financial matters in K-12 education. 

Specific proposals would increase minimum teacher salaries, provide additional funding for early childhood education and protect schools from the financial burden of some lawsuits from the state attorney general. 

K-12 education is one of the most popular topics for prefiled legislation in Missouri this year. 

See The Beacon’s summary of legislation aimed at helping families send children outside their local public school district, and keep an eye out for at least one more roundup of K-12 education bills. We’ve also collected a list of higher education bills to watch.

There is no guarantee that any bill will be heard by a committee, much less be debated by the full legislature or signed into law. Lawmakers can also amend bills at several points in the process.

You can contact your representative or senator to express your opinion on any of these topics. 

Teacher salaries

Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat from Kansas City, filed Senate Bill 19, which would increase the minimum teacher salary to $38,000. That’s a $13,000 increase from the current minimum. The National Education Association ranks Missouri 50th among the states in starting pay for teachers.

Under Arthur’s bill, teachers with a master’s degree and at least 10 years of experience in public schools would also see their minimum salaries increase by $13,000, raising their minimum annual pay to $46,000. 

Rep. Ed Lewis, a Republican and longtime educator from Moberly who filed a series of proposals on teacher pay and tax deductions, also wants to raise the minimum salary. 

His House Bill 189 provides for the same increase as Arthur’s legislation, but phased in more gradually from the 2024-25 school year through the 2026-27 school year. Beginning in the 2017-28 school year, minimum salaries would rise in line with inflation. 

A separate option from Lewis, House Bill 433, would boost the minimum salary to $38,000 by the 2024-25 school year. The minimum for more experienced teachers would go up to $44,000 the same year and continue increasing through the 2018-19 school year, when it would reach $48,000. Minimum salaries would then continue to rise with inflation. 

The proposal establishes grants to assist some districts with part of the increase for the first few years.

Lewis also filed legislation to allow districts more flexibility with salaries. Currently, districts must pay the same amount to all teachers with the same levels of education and experience. House Bill 190 would instead allow them to pay more for hard-to-staff subjects and schools. 

Other financial incentives for teachers

A direct pay increase isn’t the only way lawmakers are proposing to financially benefit teachers. 

In House Bill 191, Lewis suggested that experienced educators receive a tax deduction on income from teaching. Teachers in their sixth to 10th year of service would receive a 25% tax deduction. The deduction would increase with years of service, reaching 100% for people in their 31st year of teaching or above. 

House Bill 379, sponsored by Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, would offer many teachers and other school employees a one-time refundable tax credit of $5,000 for either 2023 or 2024. 

Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, also proposed an opportunity for teachers to receive a one-time bonus. Her Senate Bill 137 would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a patriotic and civics training program for teachers. Those who complete the program would receive $3,000. 

Finally, Rep. Gretchen Bangert, D-Florissant, is sponsoring House Bill 235. The proposal would ensure teachers receive a preloaded debit card to make tax-exempt purchases of supplies for their classrooms. 

Adjustments to state aid for schools 

Last year, several experts told The Beacon that Missouri’s school funding formula, which determines how much state aid each district receives, undermines its own goals of distributing adequate funding and funneling more money to students who are more expensive to educate. 

Several lawmakers are proposing tweaks to the system. 

Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, is proposing that students who receive free or reduced-price lunch — meaning their families have income low enough to qualify — receive a greater weighting in the formula. Senate Bill 251 would phase in the changes over several years. 

Arthur and Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, filed separate proposals to gradually increase the number of early childhood students a district can count toward its average daily attendance — a major factor in state funding. 

Arthur’s legislation is Senate Bill 18. Shields’ is House Bill 118.

Legislation sponsored by Arthur (Senate Bill 17) and Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield (Senate Bill 353), would also adjust the formula, including changing how much operating expenditures can increase each year.

Retired teachers

Sen. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, and Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, both sponsored legislation that would allow teachers and other school employees to come out of retirement for up to four years to work in hard-to-fill roles. Currently they can only do so for up to two years. 

Black’s proposal, Senate Bill 75, also revives a retirement allowance for long-serving teachers that expired in 2014. Pollitt’s legislation is House Bill 257.

Property tax revenue for schools and economic development 

A proposal from Sen. Jill Carter, R-Joplin, would allow school districts to be reimbursed for part of the property tax revenue they lose when developers receive property tax exemptions. 

Carter’s Senate Bill 364 builds on a current law that allows emergency services providers — such as ambulance and fire protection districts — to be reimbursed.  

One beneficiary of that sort of legislation would be Kansas City Public Schools, which has been critical of how tax incentives are used locally, arguing they divert too much money away from the district. 

Attorney general lawsuits against schools

Quade filed a bill to require the attorney general’s office to pay court costs for political subdivisions, such as school districts, in certain circumstances. 

The legislation comes after then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt, now a U.S. senator, sued Missouri school districts over mask requirements.

Under Quade’s proposal, House Bill 380, if the attorney general’s office sues a school district and the case concludes in the district’s favor, the office must use its regular operating budget to pay attorney’s fees and court costs for the district. 

Local control of school districts

Carter sponsored two separate bills to give local school districts more autonomy. 

Under Senate Bill 85, a district that receives at least 75% of its revenue from certain local sources, under the state’s formula, would be designated a “local control” district. 

A local control district could opt out of performance reporting requirements from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, including the Missouri School Improvement Program, annual performance reviews, reporting standards of teaching and the Missouri Assessment Program. 

The department couldn’t determine its accreditation status, and the district could choose any nationally recognized assessment to use. 

Carter’s Senate Bill 166 would prohibit city and county governments from interfering with schools of any kind within their boundaries, including influencing curriculum and employment policies and decisions.

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.