Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. May 4, 2022.

Editorial: Missouri has a shortage of teachers. We’ll lose more if they don’t get a pay raise

It’s no secret that Missouri teachers are among the poorest paid in the country, and by some calculations pay for starting teachers is the absolute worst. Now lawmakers have a chance to do better with a state Senate amendment in the pending budget legislation that would raise the minimum on new teacher annual salaries from $33,000 to $38,000. And that ought to be a no-brainer.

House and Senate budget committee members this week are negotiating the final 2023 fiscal year budget. The deadline is Friday. Legislators can find much in that budget package to haggle over, but increasing teacher pay should not be one of them.

Lawmakers have debated a variety of education issues — including a proposal requiring teachers to post lesson plans online for public access. That puts greater demands on teachers, who’ve already gone above and beyond to educate the state’s school children during a pandemic.

With educators asked to do even more, their salaries also should increase. Education experts have long known that good teachers, more than school facilities and curricula, impact student achievement.

It’s hard to attract good teachers when, according to the National Education Association, Missouri ranks near the bottom — 47th in the nation in average teacher pay. And the state ranks dead last in starting salaries for teachers. If Missouri values education, the way the state pays teachers doesn’t show it.

And then there’s this: Missouri, like other states, is experiencing a critical teacher shortage. After COVID-19 shut down schools, parents here and elsewhere challenged schools to reopen before health officials said it was safe. As educators came under attack over mask requirements, teachers left school districts in droves.

Substitute teachers have been so scarce, some districts raised their pay and relaxed requirements to allow anyone with some college — the minimal credentials — in front of classrooms.

State Rep. Mark Sharp, a Democrat from Kansas City, said he’s hearing that his colleagues in the House “will play ball” to keep the Senate’s proposed pay increase in the budget. Sharp said he believes support is more related to the shortage crisis than it is about legislators being embarrassed about Missouri’s last place ranking on starting teacher pay.

Overall, the average Missouri teacher earned less than $51,000 in 2021-2022, well below the $64,500 national average.

State Rep. Chuck Basye, the Republican from Rocheport who last month was criticized for proposing an amendment allowing voters to decide if transgender athletes could play on girls’ sports teams, said he will support whatever decision comes out of committee on teacher pay.

“I am certainly supportive of increasing starting teacher pay in Missouri,” said Basye. who chairs the House Education Committee. But rural lawmakers are concerned about the financial strain a salary increase might put on small districts, he said.

If starting salaries jump up $5,000, “then you would have to also raise the salaries of other teachers” who’ve been around longer, Basye said.

Sharp agrees the amendment would mean “districts are going to have to make adjustments and just pay teachers more.”

Teachers are worth it and with stiff national competition for the best teachers, Missouri can ill afford not to pay its teachers more. If we don’t, we’re likely to see even more teachers leave Missouri and take their talents to other states where the pay is significantly better.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch. May 9, 2022.

Editorial: Missouri politicians bring home the bacon even if there’s no money to pay for it

It’s a sad reality of American politics that elected representatives feel voters will cut their careers short if they fail to bring political pork home to constituents. Few have the guts to challenge the accepted orthodoxy. They should keep trying, because the practice of hoarding U.S. taxpayer dollars for local projects, known as earmarking, defies all logic at a time when the U.S. government is trillions of dollars in debt and badly needs to go on a fiscal diet.

At the same time, local voters might find it hard to argue with the worthy benefits earmarking reaps. As the Post-Dispatch’s Michele Munz and Josh Renaud reported Monday, Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers took full advantage of earmarking to bring $311 million worth of federal largesse home to Missouri this year — even if it means digging the federal government deeper into a fiscal hole.

For Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis, $9.2 million in earmarks will address homelessness, gun violence, access to health care, minority entrepreneurship and crime intervention. Bush faces a potentially tight primary challenge by state Sen. Steve Roberts, which probably had a lot to do with her appearances at public ceremonies last week parading giant checks made out to recipients.

Bush has repeatedly voted against U.S. aid to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion, arguing that domestic causes are going neglected. But even when Congress has proposed trillions of dollars in funding for strictly domestic infrastructure projects, she has complained because her pet projects were overlooked.

On the Republican side, Sen. Roy Blunt secured $313.3 million for his own pet projects, including raising levees in Chesterfield, replacing a Mississippi River bridge and funding a big health research facility for the University of Missouri. Blunt told Politico that if everyone is doing it, “there’s a big gap there for the people we represent if we don’t become part of that process.”

The big issue is whether politicians on either side of the aisle have any business spending money that the federal government doesn’t have. Republicans for decades have labeled Democrats as the big spenders even though GOP lawmakers are just as guilty, if not more so, with their own budget-busting measures. Exhibit A is the 2017 tax cut favoring the wealthy that Republicans promised would add $1.8 trillion in revenue. Instead, it is projected to add $1 trillion to the deficit.

Notable for their fiscal restraint are three Republicans — freshman Sen. Josh Hawley, Rep. Ann Wagner of Ballwin and Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville (who is among the Republicans seeking the seat Blunt is vacating). As individuals, they can rightfully claim to be holding the line even if their party is just as guilty as the other side for spending beyond the government’s means.

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Jefferson City News Tribune. May 6, 2022.

Editorial: Delicate balance with home-based business

Missouri lawmakers are working to promote home-based businesses while keeping necessary protections in place. It’s a delicate balance.

The pandemic showed our workforce is flexible and dynamic. In June 2020, by the time the pandemic was in full swing, 42 percent of U.S. workers were working from home, according to a Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research study.

The pandemic showed us working from home is not only possible, it can be advantageous for employees and employers.

Meanwhile, some people realized they could be their own boss. The U.S. has seen a rise in residence-based small businesses during the past two years amid COVID-19.

Government needs to do its best to help those businesses thrive, then stay out of their way.

Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-St. Charles County, is looking to help home-based businesses with House Bill 2593, which would prohibit political subdivisions from restricting no-impact home-based businesses (which do not have the outside appearance of a business or employees outside of residents of the home) by requiring permits, variances or other prior approval. Local governments would be able to enact safety and health regulations.

It’s a constantly evolving bill that isn’t perfect. But it’s one of the bills that have gained a good amount of support and still is in the mix near the end of the legislative session.

“Especially during the pandemic, thousands of people across the state have decided to turn hobbies into little side incomes, or in a lot of cases, primary incomes out of their home,” Lovasco said in our recent coverage. “Unfortunately, the hoops that a lot of folks have to jump through in order to do that and comply with the local requirements, simply to ask permission to do something that, quite frankly, a lot of folks are doing anyway is rather onerous.”

We think the goals of the legislation are good, but we share concerns that some opponents have.

We’re reluctant to bind the hands of local jurisdictions, unless absolutely necessary. And the bill needs to protect the sanctity of neighborhoods with regulations against disruptive businesses. Home-based businesses need to flourish, but not at the expense of their neighbors.

We hope lawmakers still have time to work on the language of the bill so that both goals can be accomplished.

EMD