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Omnibus bill addresses Missouri teacher recruitment, retention

by Anna Campbell | April 7, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Additions to Missouri curriculum and efforts at teacher recruitment and retention took center stage Tuesday in the Missouri House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education's meeting.

Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, presented his bill, HB 1933, which would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to offer "civil rights era" curriculum that discusses the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust and other civil rights abuses.

Promo opposed the legislation, saying the bill portrayed discrimination as being a thing of the past, rather than an ongoing struggle. The bill was also opposed by history teacher Linda Uselmann, who said it was unnecessary since civil rights curriculum was already taught in Missouri. The Missouri State Conference of the NAACP also opposed the bill.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, presented HB 2292, which would allow schools to offer elective courses on the Bible. Brian Kaylor, editor-in-chief of Word and Way, a Christian magazine, and associate director of Churchnet, opposed the legislation since he was worried about the state choosing winners and losers in religion and said the Bible could already be taught.

The House Education Committee passed a substitute bill for HB 1770. The base bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, would allow schools to differentiate pay to attract teachers to hard-to-staff areas. Other education bills had been tacked on by the time the bill left committee Tuesday.

The bill was expanded to exempt teachers from state income tax gradually over three years, a proposal that has been floated by budget chair Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage.

It also sets the minimum teacher salary at $28,000 instead of the current $25,000, to be raised over the next four years to $32,000. It raises the minimum pay for teachers with a master's degree and 10 years of experience to $36,000 and then to $40,000 over the next four years and requires minimum teacher salary be adjusted each year to account for inflation.

The bill also contains a provision that expands the visiting scholars teacher certification and offers alternative pathways to certification for teachers who are provisionally certified. The bill also expands the career ladder program, which allows teachers to be paid extra for activities outside their normal compensation, including coaching, supervising, mentoring or tutoring, teacher training, or helping students with college or career preparation. It also includes 60 percent funding from the state and sets the number of years of experience a teacher must have to participate at two rather than five.

Just last week, the House budget committee redirected funds from the governor's proposed teacher pay increase grant program to the career ladder program, which hasn't been funded by the state for more than a decade.

Legislators worried Gov. Parson's plan, which would provide partial state funding to supplement teacher salaries under $38,000, could cause wage compression and leave veteran teachers hurting.

Budget committee members also worried the appropriation couldn't be sustained in the future, leaving the door open to the possibility of local school districts losing state support. That budget received initial approval on the floor Tuesday and the funding for the career ladder program was increased by another $15.673 million.

The substitute for HB 1770 was passed out of committee largely along partisan lines.

Rep. Josh Hurlbert, R-Smithville, presented a bill that would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program into all counties with populations of 100,000 or more. That would include Boone, Cass, Clay, Franklin, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Platte, St. Charles and St. Louis counties.

Hurlbert said his constituents have been asking for the change because they want to participate in the program. The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program was passed last year, and is often referred to as "school choice" legislation.

A parent who lives outside Columbia's city limits spoke in support of the bill, saying he was surprised when he learned they wouldn't be able to participate in the program originally. The Missouri State Teachers Association spoke in opposition to the bill, saying it would expand a program that has not been tested yet.

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