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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson waves to the upper gallery Wednesday before making his way to the podium to give the annual State of the State address at the Missouri state Capitol. Parson covered several topics, including a plan to reduce violent crime across the state. Photo by Liv Paggiarino, News Tribune

Gov. Mike Parson said in his State of the State address he wants to talk about ways to improve the pay of Missouri's teachers. But until he releases more details, political and education leaders do not yet have a clear picture about what that discussion may look like or how soon teachers might see better pay.

During his speech Wednesday, Parson credited the state's teachers with making possible many changes to Missouri's workforce system — another major policy focus of his administration — "and that's why I also want to start discussing ways to improve teacher pay."

Parson did not specifically address a recent proposal from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to raise the minimum salary for the state's teachers and give teachers raises to ensure they all at least make the minimum — which could cost the state as much as $332.8 million — but he did say "the solution cannot just be asking the state to write a bigger check."

"We are going to ask school districts, school boards and DESE to propose a better plan, and a bold plan, for our teachers," Parson added.

At this point, it's not clear what exactly that means.

When asked Friday if any further details were available or when the governor might present a more specific plan, Parson's spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in an email there were not any specific details available.

"I really think what his charge is is for us to explore all options," Missouri's Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said after Parson's speech Wednesday.

Vandeven added, "What I heard from the governor today, and one of things that I would share as the commissioner, is that there's a real urgency right now. The time is now."

However, she did not say whether "now" might mean this legislative session, and she added she expected legislators "will study this issue in great detail," as DESE has.

DESE spokeswoman Mallory McGowin added Friday, "The conversations will continue throughout the year, but no, there's not a specific timeline on kind of where we go from here."

Vandeven said, "It will take a statewide commitment to make this happen. This is not a small charge that we've been given."

When asked Thursday whether teacher salary increases could or should happen this legislative session and what the sense of the timeline is, Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, the Senate's majority floor leader, said, "We'll be interested to see what (Parson's) idea is. I think it's probably right in the assertion that while we all would love to do it, and certainly want to be mindful of our compensation for our teachers, anytime you go down that road, it's a big chunk of money.

"I think if he can come up with a solution, hopefully with other stakeholders around the table, that finds a way to do it in a way that isn't so burdensome on the state budget, then we'll definitely take a look at it," Rowden said. "I think it's probably too early to tell. But I certainly think, generally speaking, we support the idea of trying to find ways to better compensate our teachers."

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, said Thursday she wanted more urgency on the issue; Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, interjected, "We would like to see a big check."

Schupp said Parson's allusion to improving teachers' salaries without specifics left her with questions including, "Where does the burden fall in terms of what parents have to take up, or what communities will do."

Teachers "are underpaid throughout the state," said said. "And it would be good to see them better paid, and I'm not sure what we heard from the governor yesterday is really going to move us in that direction, so I'm anxious to hear his plan."

Parson's budget priorities for the 2021 fiscal year do not specifically list improving teacher pay. However, the governor has prioritized other education funding items, including:

Adding $10 million to the state's base foundation of funding for elementary and secondary education, bringing the total to more than $3.56 billion.

Adding $10 million to the state's support for school transportation, bringing the total to more than $117.5 million.

Increasing support for the A+ Scholarship program by $4.8 million. The scholarship supports high school graduates who attend participating public community colleges, vocational or technical schools, and certain private two-year vocational or technical schools. The $4.8 million increase in funding would support 118 more students than in the current fiscal year — about 13,300 students in total.

Using $750,000 to allow approximately 12,000 additional students to take the ACT WorkKeys and Career Readiness Assessment, "which provides a credential indicating an individual's mastery of skills critical to success across industries and occupations. The WorkKeys Assessment is accepted by more than 5,000 Missouri employers."

Maintaining full funding for the Bright Flight Academic Scholarship with $500,000. The scholarship is merit-based and awards up to $3,000 per student per year. The $500,000 increase would allow for 316 more students to receive the assistance — about 8,200 students in total.

Funding all first-time high school equivalency exam test takers, "including those in the Department of Social Services' Division of Youth Services, Job Corps, High School Option students, and test takers at the Department of Corrections," with $295,804.

The state has also recently received federal grants to improve the state's early childhood education system.

Under Parson's proposed budget for 2021, DESE's total budget would increase about 1.1 percent above what was appropriated to it for the current fiscal year. That increase would be approximately $71.66 million — about $36.1 million of which would come from general revenue — for a total departmental budget of more than $6.3 billion.

DESE's budget is and would be the second-largest of the executive departments, behind only the Department of Social Services' recommended almost $10.2 billion budget.

The average recommended percent increase for the state's 16 executive departments would be about 1.37 percent, under Parson's budget proposals.

For perspective, the $332.8 million cost of an increase of Missouri teachers' minimum salary from $25,000 to $32,000, followed by raises to ensure every teacher at least makes that new minimum, would be larger than the $232.5 million operating budget increase from general revenue Parson has proposed for the 2021 fiscal year — and that $232.5 million addresses all state executive agencies' general revenue budgets, as well as other offices' including elected officials, the judiciary, public defenders and the General Assembly.

Parson recommended a total operating budget increase for the state of $448.4 million. The total budget for the state would be approximately $30.9 billion.

At least one piece of legislation has been filed so far this session that would address teacher pay. House Bill 1990, filed by Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, would raise the minimum salary for teachers by $1,000 each year for the next seven years — beginning with the 2021-22 school year — to reach the proposed $32,000 minimum.

As of Friday, a committee hearing for the bill had not yet been scheduled.

More information about Parson's budget recommendations, and what state departments requested, is available at oa.mo.gov/budget-planning/budget-information/2021-budget-information.

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