Rep. J. C. Kuessner, D-Eminence, issued the following newsletter to his constituents this week:
Recent statements by the top two budget officials in the Missouri General Assembly have teachers across the state worried that the state will eliminate funding for a program that supplements teacher salaries. Despite the tough tone of these lawmakers, any attempt to cut teacher pay will face stiff opposition in the legislature and is far from certain.
At issue is the Career Ladder program, which is jointly funded by the state and local school districts and provides teachers with extra pay for performing extra work. In a June 15 letter to officials at the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, warned educators that the current state appropriation for the program could be the last.
“It is the intent of the General Assembly that the FY 2010 appropriation for Career Ladder will be the last appropriation made in arrears for this program,” Icet and Nodler wrote. “The General Assembly cannot assure that participants in the Career Ladder Program for the 2009-2010 school year and beyond will be supported by state appropriation, and these potential participants should be notified of these changes.”
Because the state reimburses districts for Career Ladder costs after the fact, the nearly $37.47 million in the current state budget (FY 2010) is for the state’s share of the program during the recently concluded 2008-2009 school year. Funding for the upcoming 2009-2010 school year normally would be provided in the FY 2011 state budget.
Although Icet and Nodler wield significant influence over the state budget process, they are just two of 197 lawmakers and have no authority to state the intent of the General Assembly as they purported to do in their letter to DESE. And strong opposition to their position is already mounting. In an Aug. 13 letter to Icet and Nodler, House Education Committee Chairman Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, flatly stated that he won’t support the next state budget if it eliminates Career Ladder.
House Democrats also oppose any reduction in teacher pay. Although one Republican representative and one Republican senator think otherwise, when the next budget process is complete we expect that “the intent of the General Assembly” will be to protect teacher salaries and block any plan to cut them.