JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators reversed course Wednesday and decided to fund a program that gives teachers a salary boost for extra work, such as after-school tutoring.
The Senate Appropriations Committee last week had cut all $37 million for the Career Ladder program from next year's proposed budget. But the full Senate voted Wednesday to restore the funding using federal stimulus money, though they hope to eventually swap that out with general state funds instead.
Missouri's education funding was one of the first topics debated as senators began work on the operating budget for the 2011 fiscal year that starts July 1. State revenues are down more than 13 percent this year, and the state's economic forecasters aren't expecting much of a rebound in the coming year.
Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a $23.86 billion operating budget in January but later said that needed to be trimmed by about $500 million because of declining state tax revenues and uncertain federal funding.
The Senate Appropriations Committee had hit that target. Included in its cuts was the elimination of more than 1,000 government positions. The Career Ladder program had been among the highest-profile programs targeted for elimination.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Mayer said his change of heart came in part because teachers already have done the work that entitles them to the salary boost.
"When somebody works for you, you pay them what you told them you would pay them. And you pay them as promptly as possible," said Mayer, R-Dexter.
Career Ladder was created in 1985 and pays teachers an extra $1,500 to $5,000 annually for taking on extra duties such as after-school tutoring. The program's cost is shared by the state and local school districts. Last year, about one-quarter of the public K-12 teachers participated in the program.
Unlike most state programs, teachers are paid for their work in the following budget year. Trimming money from the program would prohibit the state from paying teachers who already have done the work.
Sen. Gary Nodler, the Senate Appropriations chairman last year, said restoring the Career Ladder funding sets a bad precedent that could eventually cause a "train wreck."
"We should not be about the business of funding entitlements where people believe by making an expenditure they impose upon the Legislature an obligation to make payment," said Nodler, R-Joplin.
Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association, said the work teachers do through Career Ladder is important. Fajen said some school districts had planned to pick up the state's share of the program if necessary while others only planned to pay their own share.
Lawmakers must approve a final version of the state budget by May 7.