Sen. Gary Nodler is still sounding the warning bell for the future of Missouri's Career Ladder program for educators. In a news release issued this week, Nodler repeated his earlier contention that there may not be enough money in the budget for Career Ladder for the 2009-2010 school year.
The premise of the Career Ladder program is a flawed one anyway. Legislators say teachers don't make enough money so they come up with a way of putting extra money into the teachers' pockets- only to get that extra money, teachers have to work more hours and fill out tons of paperwork.
Considering that Missouri is far down the ladder as far as teacher pay is concerned, this does not seem to be the right message to send, and quite frankly, I am not expecting Career Ladder funding to be cut.
So why is the threat being made now?
It does not make sense for two men who are running for higher office in 2010 to be talking about elimination of funding for what has been a popular program, despite its flaws. Many smaller school districts are only able to keep veteran teachers because of the extra money they can offer through Career Ladder (up to $5,000 a year for a teacher with a master's degree) and for veteran teachers who are often given short shrift while more money is added at the beginning rungs on the salary schedule, the extra money is important.
So why the gloom and doom?
Perhaps the stage is being set for Nodler and Icet, the budget committee chairmen for the Senate and House, respectively, to come up with a dramatic, brilliant legislative strategy that will make them appear to be the saviors of Career Ladder next May, only two and a half months before their primaries.
It could be that both men genuinely see trouble for the program and want the bad news to hit now insead of closer to election time, though that seems highly unlikely.
Or perhaps a show that they are willing to cut money from public schools is an invitation for big campaign contributions from people like Rex Sinquefield, Charles Norval Sharpe, and the Humphreys family from TAMKO who have pushed so hard for educational vouchers over the past few years.
Whatever the reason, following is the text of Nodler's news release:
Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) today addressed the future of the state’s Career Ladder Program, which provides additional pay for teachers working hours in addition to their contracted time. Sen. Nodler and House Budget Committee Chair Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) notified education officials earlier this summer that the Career Ladder Program may not be fully funded by the state for the 2009-10 school year.
“It is important to recognize that when legislators created this program in 1985, they were not aware of what the level of participation or the cost of the program might be,” said Sen. Nodler. “In that first year, 63 school districts representing 2,400 teachers participated, costing the state $2.6 million. During the 2007-2008 school year, 342 districts representing 17,980 teachers participated in the program at a cost of $36 million to the state.”
The state pays approximately 45 percent of Career Ladder funding, with individual school districts paying the remaining 55 percent. The funding for the program is appropriated retroactively, meaning the funding for the 2009-10 school year will be decided during the upcoming 2010 legislative session. This way of funding the program, which traces back to the program’s inception, is causing a great deal of concern for appropriators for the upcoming year as they closely examine the state’s budget obligations.
This year’s budget funded the Career Ladder Program for the 2008-09 school year using federal budget stabilization dollars, a temporary funding source. State statute says that funding for the Career Ladder Program is to be placed in a “Career Ladder Forward Funding Fund,” so that teachers can receive compensation for their work. Statute also states that legislators are to keep teachers and schools aware of how much money is available before the work is done—a process Sen. Nodler and Rep. Icet are now undergoing.
“Missouri’s constitution is clear on the fact that our state cannot spend what is not there,” said Sen. Nodler. “With this in mind, we are working to make sure districts are made aware that the state’s portion of their Career Ladder funding may not be appropriated, so that there are no surprises. It is also imperative that our school districts know that it is not our intent to end the Career Ladder Program, but we are instead honestly addressing the possibility of not being able to fully fund the program during a budget year that will be filled with tough choices.”