Steps could be taken to save the Career Ladder. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) has warned that the state might not have the $37 million to pay for Career Ladder, an incentive pay plan for teachers.
A letter sent by Nodler and House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) to the State Education Commissioner has sparked quite a controversy at the Capitol that came to a head during the Veto Session last month when House Democrats held a news conference denouncing the letter and what they perceived as an effort to cut Career Ladder. The letter warned that the Career Ladder could become a victim of budget cuts. It also complained about how it was funded; in arrears at the end of the budget year, rather than up-front as with all other appropriations.
Nodler is proposing that Governor Nixon review state revenue from December, reach a consensus budget estimate for the next state fiscal year and then decide whether to ask the legislature for a supplemental appropriation to pay for current Career Ladder requests. Nodler says he would back the governor if he decides the state can afford the program. He also suggests that money from the budget stabilization fund provided by the federal government be used to pay for the supplemental request.
Nodler acknowledges, though, that he doesn’t believe the governor will find the money needed for Career Ladder.
“If the picture today extends out without any change then I don’t know that I think that it’s likely that the governor is going to find funds to do this,” Nodler says. “But, hopefully, the picture will change. Hopefully, it will brighten. Hopefully, the revenue picture will improve.”
Nodler says that should be known fairly soon.
“He’s going to know at the end of December where we are on dollars. He’s going to know whether he can find $37 million for the current Career Ladder program or 27 or 10 or 15 or whatever it is,” according to Nodler. “Whether the decision is to request funding or not to request funding, there is nothing to be gained by delaying the decision”
The Career Ladder was created in 1985. A difficult budget year prompted the shift to payment in arrears when the legislature decided it needed to delay payment for a year. Approximately 18,000 teachers in 65% of the state’s school districts participate in the Career Ladder program.
State revenues have been off dramatically. Gaming revenues, according to Nodler, are off by $40 million. Nodler says the legislature will have a difficult time just keeping up with regular school funding. It will take an extra $160 million to continue planned increases to the school funding formula at a time when cuts seem much more likely than increases.