A controversial cut made by the Senate Appropriations Committee has been restored and Missouri teachers performing extra duties for extra pay will get their money.

The Senate has approved its version of the state’s $23 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1st. One of the most controversial moves of the committee has been overturned by the full Senate during floor debate on the 13 budget bills. The committee had cut the Career Ladder program, a $37.4 million program that provides funding to approximately 19,000 teachers. Teachers who participate agree to do extra duties for additional money. The full Senate has reinstated the program, but only for one year.

Several senators objected to the committee action during floor debate on SCS HB 2002, the budget bill that funds public education. Those senators argued that the teachers have been doing the extra work for months in anticipation of the legislature funding the program next year. They claimed the state had a moral obligation to fund the program and ensure the teachers got paid.

“All I’m saying is that the teachers undertook to do work under the Career Ladder program in summer school before they ever knew that there would not be funding for that program,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) said as he offered a substitute bill that funded Career Ladder.

Mayer told colleagues he had agonized over the decision by the committee to cut the program. Mayer’s proposal is to pay teachers for the work now underway, then to eliminate the program. It presumably would return when state revenues return to normal.

Former Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gary Nodler, a Republican from Joplin, objected to claims that the legislature is morally obligation to continue Career Ladder in fiscal year 2011. Nodler pointed out that Career Ladder isn’t appropriated in advance, but rather, in arrears. He charged that teachers now participating in Career Ladder had been doing so without benefit of an appropriation from the legislature.

“Therein lies the problem, because we’ve allowed a custom and practice to develop that is inconsistent with management of the state’s budget and has the effect of creating an entitlement and it is that process that is a bigger problem than the dollars involved,” Nodler stated.

Debate on Career Ladder highlighted the difficulties in the budget process this year. Gov. Nixon submitted his proposed budget in January, a spending plan that totaled nearly $24 billion. State revenue though continues to sink as the recession fails to loosen its grip on the country. The poor revenue forecast and uncertainty about whether $300 million in federal funding would actually be authorized by Congress prompted Nixon to request lawmakers cut $500 million from the budget he submitted. The House cut $224 million. The Senate committee cut $506 million.

The full Senate has restored the $37.4 million Career Ladder program for the next fiscal year. Senators also restored $14.8 million cut from higher education. An agreement has been reached to eliminate an exemption from state taxes now enjoyed by Medicaid managed care companies. That move is expected to net $20 million.

The budget bills (HBs 2001 – 2013) now return to the House. The two chambers will have to come to an agreement on spending by May 7th.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:60 MP3]