JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Teachers making less than $38,000 a year in Missouri could receive a pay raise later this year, but it won’t happen without the local school district’s approval. 

Last year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said there were roughly 4,000 teachers making between $25,000 and $35,000 annually. Under the historic budget passed by lawmakers earlier this month, there’s money for a pay boost — but only if the districts opt into the program. 

“The state is understanding the importance of investing in our children from birth all the way through higher education,” DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “One of the largest budget proposals in our history for education.

The General Assembly approved the largest budget in state history on May 6, $49 billion. It includes $214 million to fully fund the transportation formula for schools, something that hasn’t been done since the 1990s. 

“Obviously costs for transportation have gone up significantly over the past year with diesel prices and employee pressure on wages,” DESE Deputy Commission Kari Monsees said to the State Board of Education last Tuesday. “This is an area where districts have really filled the gap in and continue to do so, and this will certainly help local budgets tremendously.”

Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is being spent to increase minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $38,000. 

“It’s a grant process. So districts will have to apply for that, and when they do, we’re looking for some form of district-level commitment as well,” Vandeven said. “If they apply for this grant, they will demonstrate that they are willing and able to pay 30% of that salary increase.”

The state would pay for 70% of the raise and the rest is on the district, but the money is only available for schools where currently teachers make less than $38,000. There’s also $37 million for the Career Ladder program in the budget, giving raises to experienced teachers. Under the state statute, teachers who take professional credits, mentor students or participate in extracurricular activities fall under the program.

There’s also money in the budget to help kids who are behind because of the pandemic. It’s called “Close the Gap.” The program was not requested by DESE but was an idea from lawmakers, appropriating $25 million to the project.

“In talking with a number of legislators with what they are trying to address, we are coming out of the pandemic currently. They see a real urgency in meeting the needs of our students, particularly those who are the most significantly impacted by that.”

Vandeven said while DESE is still working out how the program would exactly work, it would give parents additional resources to help students. 

“How does the department communicate about these programs to the schools and families?” State Board of Education Member Kerry Casey asked. 

“It will probably take us all summer for us to work through that process,” Monsees responded. “Some, we will prioritize to get out sooner rather than later for example the teacher pay on getting people up to $38,000.”

During May’s monthly board meeting last Tuesday, some members questioned the large sums of money that are allocated for certain topics, like reading. 

“My question is how and when will we know the effectiveness of that program?” board member Peter Herschend asked Vandeven. “When you’re talking $25 million devoted to a topic, particularly new money, when will we start hearing back about the impact of this? Because I don’t want to just say, ‘Wow, we got $25 million,’ and it’s funding, and then we don’t hear from it again.”

Vandeven responded by saying right now, the department is waiting for the governor to sign off on the budget. So DESE is telling districts to proceed with caution until approved. 

“We will be launching a reading assessment to measure what’s happening and how quickly we will be able to tell you the direct impact of these dollars on that reading is probably a couple of years down the road,” Vandeven said. 

Higher education is also getting a boost in funds, with $10 million going to community colleges. Besides the increase in community colleges, all higher education institutions received a 5.4% funding increase, along with additional money for their retirement plans.

This summer the Blue Ribbon Commission is set to meet to discuss growing educator recruitment and retention issues that the state faces. The commission is set to meet in June and then deliver a report to the State Board of Education in October. 

The $49 billion budget is sitting on the governor’s desk, who has until July 1 to either approve the spending plan or veto it.