Missouri should increase education funding this year, Gov. Mike Parson told lawmakers Wednesday in his State of the State address.
With a plan to fully fund the foundation formula, along with an additional $117 million, invest $233 million in transportation, fund a teacher salary grant program, provide tax credits and subsidies to support child care, extend no-cost prekindergarten to half of Missouri families, and put an additional $32 million into the career ladder program, Parson has laid out a vision that calls for a deeper financial investment in education.
Career Ladder is a program that lawmakers revived last year after more than a decade without state funding. Through Career Ladder, teachers can earn up to $5,000 for completing a certain number of hours of work outside their contracted time, such as tutoring, sponsoring a club or professional development.
The program, which garnered bipartisan support amid cries to increase teachers' salaries, resulted in almost 140 districts and around 11,000 teachers participating.
Last year, the Legislature set aside $37 million to fund the grant program, which also requires a local contribution to cover 40 percent of the costs. This year, Parson is calling for $69 million to be dedicated to the program.
Jefferson City School District dove in headfirst, with around 500 staff members participating, about 65 percent of the district's certified staff.
Teachers made plans to tutor students, lead parental involvement activities, attend professional development after school, participate in book studies, join in collaborative planning, mentor younger teachers and further their education.
"I'm excited, though, that we are opening up to so many new things with this Career Ladder, because it's not just about making the money and getting the hours, but it's about being able to do more things to help kids outside of school, too," said Jennifer McBaine, a Cedar Hill kindergarten teacher, in October.
The new Cybersecurity Clubs at Capital City High School and Jefferson City High School were covered by the program, as well as a planned sign language learning group for students wishing to learn how to communicate with their classmate, and a potential club for girls interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
When the district began the program, Deputy Superintendent Heather Beaulieu said she saw it as a "win-win" because it "gives teachers a chance to make supplemental pay for going above and beyond, which we know they already do."
Today, about halfway through the program for the year, Beaulieu said the district is grateful for the governor's support of Career Ladder, calling it a "vital tool for teacher recruitment and retention."
"The program is proving to be incredibly beneficial for both staff and students by encouraging and rewarding the additional hours our teachers commit to achieving academic excellence," she said. "So far this year, we have seen an increase in after-school activities, parent involvement, tutoring and professional development, all attributable to Career Ladder."
The district plans to continue offering the program, and Beaulieu said she is hopeful that state funding will continue, as the district anticipates even higher participation.
The Blair Oaks School District continues to pay a few teachers that were involved in the Career Ladder program before the state cut funding, but pays them the local amount and does not accept new participants. However, Assistant Superintendent Kimberley Walters said the district might consider participation next year.
"Teachers invest an incredible amount of time and money out of their own pocket for our students," Walters said. "I don't think that anyone can truly understand the sacrifice they make unless they are an educator or are directly related to one. Career Ladder helps provide a little monetary bonus that helps offset some of that and compensate them for time they are already investing."
She said the most beneficial thing the state could do would be to increase financial support or even fund the program 100 percent, adding that many people don't realize there is still a "portion of the cost that school districts have to absorb."
Cole R-5 in Eugene and Cole R-1 in Russellville also did not participate this year, although both districts have said they may consider participation next year. Cole R-5 Superintendent Charley Burch said that when the legislation governing the program was passed later in the session last year, the district's budget had already been set.