House Democrats’ leader gives send-off to Rep. Martha Stevens

Representative Martha Stevens (D-Columbia) is leaving the House after three terms. She spoke briefly to thank her husband, family, and colleagues, and was given this sendoff by Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield).

“[The] Representative from Boone is somebody who gets so much done but does it so quietly.  I think you guys would be amazed to know the amount of legislation this woman has had her hands on.”

Rep. Trish Gunby farewell address

Representative Trish Gunby spoke to her colleagues in the House last week as her term draws to a close.

“Every time I drive across that bridge and I look at the Capitol building I get goosebumps. I am so proud to serve with those of you in this body. This is a special place and I thank you so much for the opportunity.”

Rep. Randy Pietzman farewell speech

Representative Randy Pietzman (R-Troy) bid farewell to the Missouri House and his colleagues on Thursday, as his time in the chamber ends due to term limits. He thanked many current and former members and his legislative assistant, and threw in a special recognition for a longtime and beloved House Chamber doorman, Charlie Hildebrand.

“I wish as a state we could get an agency put together that cares as much about children and the sex crimes against children as Missouri Conservation cares about feral hogs.”

Rep. Wes Rogers’ farewell address to the House

Representative Wes Rogers (D-Kansas City) spoke to his colleagues on Friday as he prepares to leave the House after serving two sessions.

“The amount of respect I have for so many people in this body, how much I truly just enjoy your friendship and your kindness and your perspective, even when it’s a different perspective than mine, I’m really going to miss that.”

House Speaker Rob Vescovo says farewell to the House

House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) bid farewell to the House and his colleagues on Friday. Vescovo is leaving the chamber after 8 years due to term limits. He talked about his time and accomplishments in the chamber.

Vescovo, who went from dropping out of high school to “giving the last speech of the day” on the final day of the session, said he has lived the American dream and that for him, that dream has been about second chances.

“If we got one kid out of foster care and got them into a loving home it was worth it.  If we got one kid adopted it was worth it.  If we got one kid away from being abused and a terrible setting it was worth it.  It was worth it without a doubt.”

K-12 education gets big wins in proposed FY 2023 budget

      Missouri schools and teachers would receive a number of boosts in the state spending plan approved last week by the legislature; a state budget that is one of the largest ever.  The final total proposed to go to K-12 schools exceeds $10-billion.

Representative Rusty Black (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“It is making an unprecedented investment in K-12 education in the State of Missouri and it is doing that in a couple different ways,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (R-Carthage).

      The top Democrat on the budget committee, Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis), said, “[This budget proposal] is moving us back in the direction of showing that we as a state, we as a legislature, value K-12 education.”

      More than $21-million was included to boost base teacher pay by $13,000 a year, to $38,000.  The plan is a state/local split, with districts covering 30-percent of the cost for that increase. 

      Another $37-million would restart the Career Ladder program, which rewards experienced teachers for taking on extra responsibilities and professional development opportunities. 

      Representative Ingrid Burnett (D-Kansas City), a former teacher, school counselor and principal, said she was glad to see the state resume funding career ladder, a program that she often took advantage of during her career. 

      “I found it really helpful.  It was part of our family budget.  It was how we paid for things like the summer vacation or braces for the children,” said Burnett.

      Rusty Black (R-Chillicothe), who chairs the subcommittee on education appropriations and also worked as a teacher for 32 years, also appreciated the career ladder funding.

Representative Ingrid Burnett (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “As somebody that received that once, I think there’s value in that for our students, not just teachers.  Students get something out of those extra hours that are spent with them trying to make their lives better.”

      School bussing would also see an increase over the current fiscal year’s budget.

      “There’s an additional $214-million appropriated there and that is, again, an unprecedented level of funding in that regard,” said Smith.

      Merideth spoke for many Democrats in praising that increase.

“Something that we’ve been funding at below 40-percent for the last number of years we’re finally funding at 100-percent.  That’s another 200-plus million dollars going to our schools for their transportation costs,” said Merideth, who said this could lead to additional boosts in faculty pay.  “The fact that we’re fully funding school transportation is going to give schools some flexibility to be able to provide the local match they need and to give raises elsewhere.”

      Black, who was an agriculture teacher throughout his career, was excited by proposed increases to match programs to benefit career technical schools.  Local districts could upgrade equipment or facilities if they come up with 25-percent or 50-percent of the cost.

      Black said this would, “Help students with up-to-date equipment to [be able to] leave school and go into the workforce and see something that’s not 30, 40 years old in the shop at school, and get into a place and oh, it’s got a computer attached to it.”

      Burnett said she was glad to see this level of support proposed for Missouri K-12 education.  She said past years, when less money was appropriated, were like when she was teaching and would be confronted by an angry parent. 

“If the administration doesn’t have your back, you can’t understand that until the administration doesn’t have your back … to help mediate the situation.  To give you support on how to engage with the parent in a way that was not going to be escalatingwhen the administration is not getting that from the state, it’s the same.  You just feel like you’re out there on an island.”

      Black and other lawmakers stressed that much of the funding in the spending plan comes from non-recurring sources, like federal stimulus and COVID response.  Part of the challenge in appropriating that money is in finding targets that will give schools the best chance of long-term benefit, rather than supporting programs that might go unfunded in future years when those funding sources aren’t available.

Representatives Peter Merideth (left, seated) and Cody Smith (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“We just hope the people at the local level making those decisions are doing a good job making those decisions, spending this money that we have one-time to help reduce future costs so that those long-term items maybe with their local budgets, they can do a good job with,” said Black.  “One-time doesn’t automatically mean that it’s not going to be there next year, it’s just not making the guarantee to people that it’s going to be there.  Honestly in my years of dealing with government before this, there is no guarantee.  From year-to-year it’s a new budget and people making decisions at the local level, they know that too.”  

      The Fiscal Year 2023 budget would also provide grants or reimbursements of up to $1,500 to parents and guardians to cover tutoring and other services meant to catch up K-12s students who fell behind due to the COVID pandemic, and would provide pay increases to providers of the Parents as Teachers and First Steps programs.

      That spending plan is now before Governor Mike Parson (R).  If he approves it, it would take effect July 1.