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.

Houses passes vehicle tax credit bill, answering call of special legislative session

The Missouri House has passed legislation aiming to allow people to keep getting multiple tax breaks when trading in more than one vehicle on a new one.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr and Representative Becky Ruth discuss the passage of a vehicle tax credit bill, in response to the special session’s call.  (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The chamber’s Republicans say the language of House Bill 1 will allow Missourians to keep doing what they’ve been doing and say it will help all consumers.  Many House Democrats voted for the bill, though some in that caucus decried it as “corporate welfare” and said it was a topic unworthy of a special session.

The House voted today, 126-21, to send the bill to the Senate.

Governor Mike Parson (R) called a special session to coincide with today’s annual veto session to deal with the issue in response to a Missouri Supreme Court ruling in June.  The Court said state law allows a tax break to be awarded only on one vehicle, when multiple vehicles are traded in toward a new one.

Sponsor Becky Ruth (R-Festus) said her bill will give much-needed tax relief to Missourians from all walks of life.

“A young mother who is trying … maybe she’s got two cars that don’t run well and she’s trying to upgrade to a good, dependable car to take her child to school; to get to work herself.  This impacts someone that may have lost their spouse and they need to trade in those two cars to be able to get a good, reliable car.  This impacts senior citizens who are trying to downsize.  This impacts just normal, everyday working people,” said Ruth.

Shrewsbury Democrat Sarah Unsicker agreed the bill will affect some individuals, but said it will also let corporations keep from paying their “fair share.”

“There are approximately 14-thousand vehicle sales estimated to be impacted by this bill.  The Department of Revenue cannot estimate how much this tax credit costs the state or how many vehicles are commercial sales,” said Unsicker.  “If we make this just about individuals like those the sponsor referenced I would support this bill.  However, I believe this bill is, to a substantial extent, corporate welfare, and therefore I will be voting against it.”

An amendment that would have made the tax credit available only to individuals and businesses of 12 or fewer employees was voted down.

Democrats argued that the tax credit issue was not pressing and did not merit the calling of a special session.

“This Supreme Court Decision didn’t just help us figure out, this summer, that this was an issue.  Since 2008 there have been 17 administrative hearings to ask this question of whether folks are allowed to trade in multiple cars to offset the car they buy.  In all 17 administrative hearings they found they couldn’t,” said St. Louis representative Peter Merideth (D)“Regular people, regular folks were being told they couldn’t claim this credit, but we didn’t consider it an emergency.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (at podium) and other House Democrats were critical of the legislature’s special session not including discussion of Medicaid eligibility and gun laws. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ruth argued that the law needed to be clarified, and addressing it in a special session makes sure no eligible vehicle trades will happen without the award of tax credits, thanks to a window of 180 days before or after a new vehicle purchase in which to offset the owed sales tax.

“If you’re one of those people since the Supreme Court decision on June 25, 2019, that’s trying to figure this out … if we do this now, those folks are still going to be able to take advantage of that credit.  If we wait and we do this next session they’re not going to be able to take advantage of that credit,” said Ruth.  “The people that come before them, the people that come after them, will, and this could possibly set our state up for lawsuits.”

Ruth calls the legislation is a way to keep Missouri law consistent.

“We simply went in and made this clear and direct … so that the citizens of Missouri can continue to do business the way they are accustomed,” said Ruth.

“The problem that I have with that is the ‘business as usual’ that we’ve been doing has been established by the Supreme Court to be against the law,” said Kansas City representative Ingrid Burnett (D)“Rather than take to task the [Department of Revenue], who has been breaking the law, we have decided to call a special session to come here to change the law.”

House Democrats said lawmakers’ time would have been better spent debating changes to gun laws, and several among them filed proposals to that end.

They also wanted to see attention given to Medicaid enrollment.  House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said Missourians with life-threatening medical conditions are losing coverage.

“There were several important issues that the legislature could have taken up in special session that could have made a positive impact on all Missourians.  This was not one of them,” said Quade.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield) said any time a special session is called people will point to other issues it could have dealt with.

“That’s not really my decision.  If the governor thinks it’s important … we were coming up here anyway for the veto session.  It’s an issue that we could work on.  It’s an issue that, as you saw, had pretty broad support,” said Haahr.

Haahr said he has asked members of his caucus to research what some other cities in the nation have done to reduce violent crime, with the aim of preparing a legislative proposal for the regular session that begins in January.

As for Medicaid enrollment, Haahr said decreases in enrollment are due to factors including an improved economy and changes in 2016 to the Affordable Care Act (ACA); and a review of Medicaid eligibility that has seen ineligible recipients being taken off the program’s rolls.  He said if a need for hearings on the issue is presented to him, he will call for them.

House votes to override governor on four budget items; Senate takes no action

The Missouri House voted to override the governor’s vetoes of four items in the state operating budget that became law in July.  The Senate has opted not to take up those items for consideration, so the governor’s vetoes will stand.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick proposed the overrides of five vetoes the governor made in the state’s budget. The House voted for four of those overrides. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted to override Governor Mike Parson’s (R) vetoes on line-items that support juvenile advocacy units in the Kansas City and St. Louis offices of the state public defender; time-critical centers for heart attack and stroke patients in Missouri hospitals; independent reviews by the Office of Child Advocate of local offices that serve troubled youths; and the oversight of grants to organizations that serve the deaf and blind.  The four items totaled more than $785,000.

House budget leaders said those items will be brought up for consideration when the legislature meets again in January, for the start of its regular session.

The House voted only on five budget items during its annual veto session, which began and ended Wednesday.  On the fifth budget item, $50,000 for grants to law enforcement agencies for the purchase of tourniquets for officers, the House fell short of the constitutional majority needed for an override.

Money for inspections of state-certified heart attack and stroke trauma centers

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said after the governor vetoed money to fund inspections and certification of time-critical trauma centers for heart attack and stroke patients, his administration then said those inspections would be conducted anyway.  Fitzpatrick said he wants to see the inspections continue, but for them to be funded by pulling money from parts of the budget not intended for them violates the role of the legislature in the budget process.

“The governor vetoed all the people and all the money for that particular program and my opinion is once you do that, you can’t fund that program,” said Fitzpatrick.  “That is going to come to a head in January.  It is going to be an issue and it will get dealt with in a different way.”

The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Kip Kendrick (Columbia), agreed.

“I don’t know exactly how that program moves forward if the line’s been vetoed and the two [full-time employees] in the program have been vetoed.  We want to see the program move forward, but also how does the program exist if it doesn’t have a line and a place in the budget … I don’t want to see any of the services disrupted or interrupted, but that being said we need to make sure that we’re handling things appropriately.” said Kendrick.

Money for Office of Child Advocate review of local abuse investigations

$100,000 for the Office of Child Advocate would pay for two people that St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr said would conduct a thorough review of how child abuses cases are processed.  He said the office needs those two additional staff members to keep up with that extra work.

“We are making sure that we’re taking care of kids in the foster care system, we’re making sure that any charge of child abuse is being looked at and is being processed correctly so that the system works for the most vulnerable in our society,” said Bahr.

Money for oversight of grants to organizations serving Missouri’s deaf and blind

The $45,000 for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would pay for a person to oversee grants to organizations serving the deaf and blind.  That position was created as part of House Bill 1696 passed in 2016, which was sponsored by Representative Lyle Rowland (R-Cedarcreek).  He said those grants have been fully funded for the past two years.

“In our world today we want all moneys from government to have accountability, and we need to have a person in place in that commission that oversee this money, can answer questions, can develop the [requests for proposal], to allow this to take place to help the deaf, blind community,” said Rowland.

Shrewsbury Democrat Sarah Unsicker said the person currently overseeing these grants has a number of other jobs and is overwhelmed.

Representative Kip Kendrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“People who are deaf/blind need additional services including language acquisition, communication assistance, and help with activities of daily living.  The Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is not equipped to deal with these specialized needs of this population by themselves and needs this staff person to assist with these needs,” said Unsicker.

Money for public defenders for juveniles in Kansas City and St. Louis

Fitzpatrick said the $487,000 for juvenile advocacy units in the St. Louis and Kansas City offices of the public defender system would ensure that the constitutional right to counsel for juveniles in those regions would be met.

Bahr said those juveniles need proper defense attorneys to keep them from entering a “prison pipeline where they end up becoming a far larger cost onto our society as perpetual inmates.”

Representative Ingrid Burnett (D-Kansas City) said as a teacher she worked with elementary school children both before and after these public defender units for juveniles existed.

“The difference between the outcome for these children is staggering,” said Burnett.

Kansas City Democrat Barbara Washington said she has personal experience as a juvenile offender, and said the importance of juveniles having representation cannot be overstated.

“I sit here today because I had an attorney.  I sit here today because my parents could afford an attorney and I can state today that no one else who was incarcerated with me at that time was even able to graduate from high school, and that was because at that time there was not a public defender system totally dedicated to juvenile offender,” said Washington.

No hard feelings from the House toward the governor over budget vetoes

Both Fitzpatrick and Kendrick said the attempts to override Parson’s vetoes did not signal a battle between the House and the governor’s office.

“The governor came into office in June and basically had one month to review the budget at the same time he was trying to assemble his team.  I think that unfortunately there were some things they didn’t get the full picture on and had to make some decisions before they had all the information,” said Fitzpatrick.  “We’ll continue to work with the governor.  This is not intended to be an issue that is supposed to disrupt the relationship.  It’s just a part of the process.”

Kendrick was not critical of the governor, even regarding the veto of funding for time-critical trauma center inspections and the procedural issues surrounding its continued funding.

“Everybody makes mistakes, right?  We all make mistakes.  Sometimes you’ve just got to own up to the mistake that you make … I don’t think Governor Parson wanted to see this program disappear.  Soon after I think he realized that it’s an important program obviously not just to us here in the building but to everyone around the State of Missouri,” said Kendrick.

Missouri House votes a second time to ease state’s motorcycle helmet law

The state House has voted twice this session to relax Missouri’s law requiring that helmets be worn by motorcycle riders.

Representative Shane Roden offered an amendment to a Senate bill to ease Missouri's motorcycle helmet law.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Shane Roden offered an amendment to a Senate bill to ease Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Members voted earlier this month to pass House Bill 576, and on Tuesday voted for an amendment to Senate Bill 8, both containing the same language.  They would allow riders 21 and older who have completed a motorcycle safety course or who have had their motorcycle license for at least two years to ride without a helmet if they have insurance.

Missouri legislators have for years debated easing the state’s helmet law.  While both measures received favorable votes, the issue stirs passion in both proponents and opponents, and both sides of the issue are bipartisan.

Rolla representative and doctor Keith Frederick (R) said he generally, “doesn’t want the government telling people what to do,” but riders without helmets could cost taxpayers a lot of money.

“Somebody has a bad accident and they have a head injury that incapacitates them for years, it’s … I think the gentleman from the White District in the past has pointed out the lifetime cost is average about $4.5-million,” said Frederick.

Kansas City Democrat Ingrid Burnett said she could not support the amendment after the death of a close family friend.

“He hated wearing a motorcycle helmet but he wore his helmet when he was in Missouri because Missouri had a helmet law, but when he was traveling back to Oakland and going through a state where there was no law, he had a serious accident and lost his life,” said Burnett.

The amendment to SB 8 was offered by Cedar Hill representative Shane Roden, who said he rides motorcycles himself.  He said he would wear a helmet most of the time even if the law is changed, but he wants the freedom to ride without it.

He argued that nearly half of fatal motorcycle accidents involved riders that had more than the legal limit of alcohol in their systems, “so if we want to talk about reducing fatalities maybe we need to start enforcing DWIs a little bit stronger, so I would say if you really want to make an effective reduction in deaths, maybe we need to go on the campaign about riding while intoxicated or buzzed driving.”

Representative Keith Frederick opposes proposals this year to relax Missouri's motorcycle helmet law.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Keith Frederick opposes proposals offered again this year by fellow Republicans to relax Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Joseph Republican Delus Johnson said as a motorcycle rider, he feels he is “grouped in” by the state’s helmet law with those who ride while intoxicated or ride recklessly.

“Why am I being punished?” asked Johnson.  “Why am I grouped in with these drunks that are riding motorcycles that probably don’t have a motorcycle license, they don’t have motorcycle insurance.  If they’re not wearing a helmet and they get in a wreck they’re breaking the law anyway.  Why are we grouped in with those lawbreakers?”

Supporters also argue that allowing people to ride in Missouri without helmets would increase tourism.  They say many riders and groups deliberately avoid the state because of its helmet law.

HB 576, sponsored by High Ridge Republican John McCaherty, is awaiting a vote by a Senate committee.  SB 8 has been sent back to the Senate with several amendments that that chamber must consider.