JEFFERSON CITY — A $400 million proposal to give Missouri teachers a big pay raise has a strong endorsement from state education officials. The only problem: No way to fund it — yet.
In December, officials in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommended that all public school teachers get a $4,000 pay raise, while also raising the legally required minimum pay to $32,000 a year from $25,000. That would cost $322 million.
The plan, presented to the State Board of Education, also would establish a $75 million equity fund to offer hiring incentives in hard-to-staff subject areas, such as special education, math and English as a second language, and in underserved regions in the state.
Missouri teachers are among the lowest paid in the United States. The average salary for public school teachers was $49,300 in the 2017-18 school year, putting Missouri 43rd among states and the District of Columbia, according to National Education Association data.
Funding for the raises would likely come from the state, rather than local school districts, said Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner in the department’s Office of Educator Quality. He said he recognized that the proposal is a big ask from the Legislature.
“There’s not $300 million to $400 million sitting somewhere that people are saying, ‘Hey gosh, if only we just had a good idea of what to spend this on,’” he said.
Katnik said the options to fund the plan were to divert existing state revenue or raise more, but that lawmakers are in a better position to figure out where the money would come from.
Rep. Rusty Black, R-Chillicothe, who chairs the House committee on education appropriations, said Thursday that he hadn’t seen a proposal from the department to fund the raises.
Black said increasing state support for education in general, through the foundation formula, would not “guarantee” any raises for teachers. He said he would need to see a specific request for the money in the state budget.
The state school board also briefly discussed the plan Thursday. Victor Lenz, vice president of the board, said in an interview that the board was taking the initiative on increasing salaries for teachers in Missouri, which he called “pathetic.”
“We would love to have the money to have that happen,” Lenz said. “We’re going to continue pushing.”
The raises and equity fund are among several strategies the department is using to improve teacher recruitment and retention. They were developed by the Missouri Teacher Table, a group that included teachers, professional organizations and other stakeholders, and based on a yearlong data-gathering project by the state.
“The data was clear: What we pay teachers in our state is a serious barrier to getting people to teach in our classrooms and to stay there,” Katnik said.
Most of the strategies don’t come with the same massive price tag as raises for teachers, he said. The other strategies include a public relations campaign to improve how legislators see teachers, and more leadership and professional development programs, among many others.
Jack Suntrup of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.