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Cookson wants to improve education by raising teachers’ salaries and more

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – State Rep. Steve Cookson, a former superintendent from Ripley County, filed 5 bills before leaving the Capitol last week, all addressing education.

“I believe our greatest investment is in our children,” Cookson, a Republican, said. “The closer we can invest our resources in our children, the better product we receive in the classroom. I believe these bills will focus.the attention back at the students.”

The first bill, HB 957, would make the minimum salary for a teacher $30,000 per year – up $6,000 from the current minimum –  which would substantially raise the average salary and Missouri’s national ranking.

Currently, Missouri teachers starting out teachers are the third least paid in the nation, with a starting salary of $30,064 on average. Montana and South Dakota are the only two other states that pay their new teachers less at $27,274 and $29,851, respectively. Considering all teachers, Missouri ranks 11th from the bottom and $10,000 less than the national average.

Cookson on the House floor
Cookson on the House floor

A second bill was filed relating to education salaries – this time addressing superintendent salaries. Cookson explained to The Missouri Times that the bill would make it so that a school district’s superintendent cannot make more than four times the salary and benefits than an entry level teacher in the same district.

A third bill would limit Career Ladder programs for educators to accredited school districts. Career Ladder is a popular program, as well as the longest-lived performance pay program in the country. The program allows for salary supplements, not including student performance, for additional work such as providing enhanced student learning experiences, offering remedial assistance to students, or engaging in professional development.

Cookson said that limiting the scope of the program redirects the attention away from failing school districts to applauding successful districts.

“We can’t overlook those that are successful,” he said.

More than 300 school districts and 17,000 teachers participated in the program in 2006.

The fourth bill would only allow school boards to act legally within public school board meetings. Though school boards operate under that assumption, Cookson said, it is time to make it the law.

“Everyone assumes and has been practicing,” Cookson said. “Occasionally school districts are hindered by a rogue individual on a school board.”

The fifth education related bill would impose penalties against parents or guardians of children who are not enrolled in school or who are habitually absent without excuse, habitually absent being more than 10%. As a penalty in Cookson’s bill, public benefits could be revoked for parents with habitually absent children.

“I believe it is a parental responsibility and right to see that their child has the best opportunity,” Cookson said. “That includes include an investment on [the parents’] part. … I want to give truancy courts another tool to ensure students are being properly educated.”

Cookson represents Wayne, Ripley, Butler, and Carter Counties in the Missouri House of Representatives.