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.

Legislature coming down to the wire this week on FY ’18 budget proposal

The legislature’s top responsibility enters its final push this week, as Friday is the constitutional deadline for it to propose a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Beginning tomorrow, selected House and Senate members will work to negotiate a compromise between each chamber’s budget proposals.  Any compromise the two sides reach must then be voted on by 6 p.m. Friday to be sent to Governor Eric Greitens (R).

The House proposed that the state should for the first time fully support the formula for funding K-12 schools.  Early discussions in the Senate suggested it would do otherwise, but it decided to follow suit.  That was the top priority for House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), and with both chambers agreeing on it, he says his priority now is clear.

“A balanced budget,” Fitzpatrick said.

Getting there by Friday, however, will be challenging.  The difference between the two chambers’ budget proposals is somewhere beyond $100-million.

Fitzpatrick said much of that difference is in projects the Senate added when they were planning not to fully fund the K-12 education formula.  When the Senate voted to instead fund the formula, it didn’t remove those projects.

“Now that the formula is funded, I think the projects are going to be tough to [pay for],” said Fitzpatrick.

Another substantial difference between the two proposals concerns “Es.”  For several years, legislative budget makers have used an “E” at the end of a budget line to represent an open-ended spending limit.  This was often used in places where predicting how much would be needed over the course of a fiscal year was particularly difficult, and it would allow an entity to exceed the budgeted amount if necessary.  The effort to remove Es began several years ago, and the House proposed a budget that completed that removal.

The Senate restored some Es to various places in the budget.  Fitzpatrick wants to remove those in the final compromise.  He said their presence in the Senate’s proposal also distorts how far apart the House and Senate plans are.

“So like for the budget reserve fund, we put a $25.5-million number in there.  The Senate put the E back on and made it $1, so that makes their budget actually appear $25.5-million smaller,” said Fitzpatrick.  “So really to compare apples to apples you have to add $25-million to their budget to see the difference.”

Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t know how many more such examples exist throughout the budget plans.

One line of particular importance to Fitzpatrick and others in the House is the state’s legal expense fund, which has had an E on it.  That line has been the focus of great legislative attention this year after the revelation that the Department of Corrections has settled millions of dollars in lawsuits in recent years in cases of employee harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

With an E on that line – the line from which comes the money for all settlements with the state – Corrections never had to come before a legislative committee to explain what was behind the multiple, large settlements.  Lawmakers say that kept them in the dark as to the environment and repeated issues in the Corrections Department.

The House’s proposal replaced that line with lines in the budgets of each state agency.  That meant any future settlement would come out of the involved agency’s budget, and if it had so many that it exceeded what the legislature appropriated, it would have to explain why to lawmakers.  The Senate returned the legal expense fund to being a single line in the budget.  Fitzpatrick and House members strongly want to see the House’s version restored.

House and Senate conferees begin meeting Tuesday morning.  Their goal is to have a compromise ready for each chamber to vote on by Friday.  Failure to meet the state Constitution’s deadline could mean legislators will have to meet in a special session, after the regular session ends on May 20, to complete a budget.