All Missourians have suffered tremendously from the economic instability caused by this pandemic and the ensuing shutdown. There is not one family in this state that has not been detrimentally affected by COVID-19. Missouri’s teachers and educators have been particularly hard-hit; navigating uncertain futures in their personal lives while continuing to teach future generations is anything but easy.
The struggles of teachers have been compounded by budget withholds from public education that occurred as a result of a decline in state revenue. COVID-19 and the economic shutdowns have resulted in less money for schools and teachers, which means many districts are struggling to make ends meet even as they plan for reopening schools in the fall. Now, districts throughout the state are all sharing the burdens of the economic downturn.
Even before the education world was turned upside down by the pandemic, Missouri has struggled with teacher pay. Citing reports that Missouri ranks among the lowest in the nation in teacher salaries, the State Board of Education recommended earlier this year that all public school teachers get a $4,000 raise. This seems easy enough until you do the math. Granting those salary increases across the whole state would cost a staggering $400 million. Despite this being a clearly worthy investment, as one of the primary authors of the state budget, I can tell you that we don’t have that kind of money laying around. That’s why in this year’s legislative session, I filed HB 2736 which would ultimately make teachers exempt from state income tax. This would have roughly the same effect as the $4,000 raise on teachers’ take-home pay and would cost the state less money. This is one example of the kind of creative approach we will need to take as a state to tackle our education-related budgetary woes. Unfortunately, that bill didn’t get over the finish line, but I plan to file it again next year.
Budget shortfalls are proving to be an even further harm to teachers. Teachers, who already pay out of pocket for many classroom supplies, are looking at even further difficulty as they scramble for personal protection equipment for themselves and the classroom. Missouri’s teachers are displaying nothing short of herculean efforts, yet they are privately bearing the cost. This should not be the case. When the budget is stressed, public education and educators face tremendous challenges.
That is why anyone who cares about public education should vote NO on Amendment 2 in Missouri. I know that Amendment 2 is being billed as a fiscally sound venture, but it’s illogical to suggest that we can add hundreds of thousands of people to our state’s most expensive program and somehow save money. Medicaid already constitutes almost 40 percent of Missouri’s budget. It grows by hundreds of millions of dollars annually and, as it does, it continues to encroach upon the finite resources (state revenues) that public education is so heavily dependent upon. The truth is that Amendment 2 would cost hundreds of millions in state revenue. What’s worse is that there is no funding mechanism or source included to pay for it. Because we must have a balanced budget, that’s hundreds of millions that will have to be cut from somewhere, and that usually means education. Proponents of Amendment 2 hold up the benefits of offering health care to able-bodied, working-age adults but are silent on the staggering cost and lack of a plan to pay for it.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for teachers and their work. It is because of the invaluable work that teachers do that Missouri must realize that massive spending programs will gut public education. We live in a real world with real consequences, and Amendment 2 poses disastrous consequences for teachers. For the sake of our teachers and public education, I urge all concerned voters to vote no on 2 this upcoming election day.
Representative Cody Smith, District 163
House Budget Chairman
State Rep. Cody Smith is a Republican who represents HD 163 and chairs the House Budget Committee.