House leader says teacher pay legislation is dead

Thursday, April 10, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A House leader declared legislation to raise teacher salaries dead Thursday, after representatives stripped a provision that would have given state aid for special-needs students to switch schools.

House Majority Leader Steven Tilley said he will not allow the legislation to be brought up for a vote, because he says the bill now only helps teachers — not children.

"That bill will not see the light of day," Tilley, R-Perryville, told The Associated Press.

During debate Wednesday night, Rep. Trent Skaggs, D-Kansas City, accused some lawmakers of backing the special-needs tax credits because of the political contributions.

On Thursday, Tilley took umbrage with Skaggs' approach.

"If you have information about another member who's done something that's unethical, do not make accusations that are baseless in nature," Tilley said from his microphone at the beginning of Thursday's House session.

Moments later, Tilley and Skaggs started arguing in the back corner of the chamber, away from the microphones, and had to be separated by staff and other legislators.

Then, an argument broke out between Skaggs and House Majority Whip Brian Nieves, R-Washington, another supporter of the tax credits. Skaggs tapped Nieves twice on the cheek with an open hand, and the those two also had to be separated by staff and lawmakers.

The teacher pay legislation had been a priority for House Speaker Rod Jetton. It would have raised the minimum starting teaching salary by more than 20 percent and set the state's first-ever minimum salary standards for more experienced teachers. It also would have offered bonuses to teachers based on performance or a willingness to work in poor districts.

Jetton had implored colleagues to also keep a section allowing state tax credits to offset donations to charities, which in turn would provide scholarships so autistic or disabled children could go to private or other public schools.

But House members removed the tax credits from the bill by an 80-58 vote Wednesday night. Opponents derided the potential for state money to benefit private schools. Some also derided the potential state oversight that could come upon private schools as a result.

Tilley had been a supporter of the tax-credit provision. As the majority leader, he decides what bills are brought up for debate. Immediately after Wednesday night's vote, Tilley asked for the bill to be set aside and adjourned for the evening.

"I wasn't a big fan of the bill in the first place," Tilley said Thursday morning. Without the state aid for special-needs children, "I'm certainly not interested in bringing it back up.

"If we're going to look at a bill to help teachers, which I think is legitimate, I think we should also look at policies to help kids," Tilley said.

School choice advocates have been battling unsuccessfully for several years to allow certain Missouri students to transfer from public schools to private ones at taxpayer expense.

Last year, the House defeated a bill that would have provided $40 million a year in state tax credits so lower-income families in St. Louis and Kansas City could send their children to other public or private schools. This year's proposal for special needs children would have applied statewide but would have worked in much the same way.

Public school officials warned the proposals would drain money from their districts, leaving fewer resources to teach the students who remain. They also questioned whether private schools could provide the same quality or accountability as public schools.

But the educational tax credit bills have enjoyed support from some powerful financial backers, including retired investment banker Rex Sinquefield, who has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to favored politicians either directly or through political action committeess.

During debate Wednesday night, Rep. Trent Skaggs, D-Kansas City, accussed some lawmakers of backing the special-needs tax credits because of the political contributions.

On Thursday, Tilley took umbrage with Skaggs' approach.

"If you have information about another member whose done something that's unethical, do not make accusations that are baseless in nature," Tilley said from his microphone at the beginning of Thursday's House session.

Moments later, Tilley and Skaggs started arguing in the back corner of the chamber, away from the microphones, and had to be separated by staff and other legislators. Then, an argument broke out between Skaggs and House Majority Whip Brian Nieves, R-Washington, another supporter of the tax credits. Skaggs tapped Nieves twice on the cheek with an open hand, and the those two also had to be separated by staff and lawmakers.

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Associated Press writer Chris Blank contributed to this report.

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Teacher pay bill is HB2040.

On the Net:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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