by: Matt Michelson, Director of Education Policy

   With another new year underway, the Missouri State Teachers Association has clear guidance from members on the Education Policy Priorities for 2023. For those unfamiliar with the process, MSTA members’ voices are always the deciding factor in the positions that are taken by the MSTA Education Policy team.  

   Throughout the year, the MSTA Education Policy Department takes recommendations on changes to the MSTA Adopted Resolutions. The MSTA Education Policy Committee, comprised of MSTA members from across the state, analyzes the proposals then sends them to open hearings in each region. The proposals are then discussed and voted on by delegates at the MSTA Assembly of Delegates to modify the MSTA Adopted Resolutions. These resolutions are the guiding document for advocacy positions. After the assembly has concluded, the Education Policy Committee meets again to vote on the MSTA Education Policy Priorities.

   The voices of MSTA members are important in this internal process, but it is also vital that they are building relationships with elected officials. Nothing can replace the connection between an elected official and their constituent. They are in the office to represent you. We know there will be many important issues in the legislature this session, yet I want to highlight a few that I think are worth mentioning to your legislators. You can stay up to date on these issues by reading MSTA Action each week during the session. 

   Teacher pay will again be front and center during this legislative session. MSTA supports continued dedicated state monies to increase the minimum teacher salary to $42,000. MSTA believes that all education employees’ salaries must be increased to deliver the best possible education to the students of the state. Last session, MSTA was successful in lobbying to restart a revamped version of career ladder, as well as securing $37 million to fund the program. This program will need to be funded again this session. The legislature created a voluntary 70/30 grant match program to raise beginning teacher salaries to $38,000. This program was a good start, but there is still work to be done as Missouri education employees fall further behind other states and industries with similar credentials. 

   MSTA supports the expansion of this program to reach more districts, more school employees and include a component that would allow districts to address compression of their salary schedules. This would ensure that all employees of the school district would see an increase in pay. Other important funding issues the legislature must address this session include fully funding K-12 transportation and support for new programs passed by the legislature in previous sessions, including changes regarding competency-based reading programs.

   Missouri education employees and retirees have seen increased support for the retirement system in the legislature during previous sessions. It seems that this trend should be maintained as the retirement system continues to be well managed and responsive to the needs of all members. However, there are important proposed changes that would benefit students, teachers and retirees. This includes bringing back the 2.55% benefit factor for those with 31 or more years of service, benefitting students by keeping highly qualified educators in the classroom and not negatively impacting the financial health of the system. On the federal level, MSTA continues to oppose the harmful and unfair Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provisions.  

   MSTA members at the annual MSTA Assembly of Delegates voted to be clear in their opposition to open enrollment, yet there will be a push by Missouri legislators to make Missouri an open enrollment state. Open enrollment would allow students to attend the district of their choice regardless of where they reside. Past versions of the legislation claim to create a “voluntary” system, yet it is only voluntary as to whether a district accepts students and if a transfer student decides at any time to return to the resident district, the resident district is again responsible for the education of that student. This policy will lead to school consolidation and to many districts struggling to maintain the educational programs currently offered, such as FFA, choir, band and athletics.

   A provision in previous versions of the bill allows districts to deny students based on special education status if the transfer district determines they cannot meet the students’ needs, allowing districts to discriminate against students. Open enrollment will pit schools against one another to compete for students and the funding associated with them.  Funding that would normally go toward student learning would be spent on recruiting students and competing with neighboring districts.

   Missouri has amazing teachers and school staff - we must be the disruptors and break through the negative narratives that many perpetuate. Let’s show our leaders that all Missouri students deserve quality schools that benefit Missouri families and communities. Don’t forget to check MSTA Action each Friday during session and sign up for the MSTA Rapid Response program by texting “MSTA” to 52886.