JEFFERSON CITY — In one of its biggest budget cuts yet, a Missouri Senate committee decided Thursday to eliminate state funding for a program that pays teachers extra money for after-school tutoring.
If upheld by the House, the budget cut could force public schools to either dip into their own funds or shortchange teachers for the extra hours of work they have done during the current school year.
"I think the local districts will grapple with that," said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association. "Some will probably see if they can come up with some additional funding to offset the state cut, others will probably come to the conclusion they can't afford to do that."
The Career Ladder program, established in 1985, pays teachers between $1,500 and $5,000 annually for performing extra duties, such as tutoring, developing curriculum or attending workshops and college courses.
Last year, 17,958 of the state's 70,689 public school teachers received extra pay from the program, according to figures from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Teachers in two-thirds of Missouri's 523 school districts participated, with the majority of those teachers doing tutoring.
The Senate Appropriations Committee cut the entire $37 million allotment for the Career Ladder program. Committee Chairman Rob Mayer said the cut was unfortunate but necessary to help close a $500 million gap in Missouri's proposed 2011 budget.
Mayer said his wife participated in the Career Ladder program in the Blue Springs School District when he attended law school in the 1990s.
"It's the only type of merit pay that exists in our present K-12 educational system," said Mayer, R-Dexter. "I like it. ... I just simply can't find the money to fund it."
Gov. Jay Nixon supports the cut, said his budget director Linda Luebberring.
The House previously voted to fund the program, so lawmakers ultimately could provide anywhere from no money to the full $37 million when negotiators craft a final version of the budget before the May 7 passage deadline. Missouri's budget takes effect July 1.
"Most of the school districts are hoping for funding this year (in the 2011 budget) and expecting it won't be there next year," said Mike Wood, a lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association.
The Career Ladder program operates differently than most programs in that the state payments are a reimbursement for work already completed. For example, teachers performing extra duties during the 2009-10 school year normally would receive their state payment this coming July, which is the first month of Missouri's 2011 budget year.
Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, argued that Missouri essentially would be reneging on a contract by eliminating the $37 million payment. They noted many school districts — like the state — already are facing their own budget problems.
The chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees warned education officials last summer that there was no guarantee the Career Ladder program would be funded in the next budget.
Mayer said school administrators had plenty of notice of the potential budget cut. But Barnitz said many school districts already had reached contracts with teachers to perform extra duties by the time they received that notice.
Both the Senate and House versions of the state budget would keep basic state school aid flat for the 2010-11 academic year, rejecting a more than $100 million increase called for under the formula that calculates how much each district is due.
The Senate committee previously approved cuts in school busing aid and the Parents as Teachers early childhood development program. On Thursday, it also decided to eliminate funding for the Scholars and Fine Arts academies, a pair of three-week summer programs for gifted high school students.
The Senate panel previously approved a more than 7 percent reduction in basic aid to public colleges and universities. On Thursday, it backed a 10 percent reduction to MU's hospital and health care services.