Missouri budget may ax teacher development programs

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Educators are expressing concern as funding for teacher development programs faces elimination from the state budget.

Money to support such things as mentoring and curriculum improvement programs for teachers was removed from the Missouri House of Representatives version of the budget. School officials said they are concerned about service to smaller, rural schools that depend heavily on the state programs.

"We have a lot of poverty in our region. We feel like it would be really detrimental to our schools," said Cheri Fuemmeler, director of the Southeast Regional Professional Development Center.

The development programs are already operating at a reduced level. Past budgets included $20 million for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to support the services. Last year's budget included $15 million.

The House version of the budget does not include any money and would cut the majority of funding to regional development centers and the programs they offer. The $22.9 billion spending plan is up for a vote this week. If the money is not restored during floor action, advocates will turn to the Senate for help.

"The development centers would suffer," said Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "I'm not certain they could stay in existence."

There are nine regional professional development centers throughout the state, including one at Southeast Missouri State University that works with 89 school districts in the region.

Fuemmeler said the center has some federally funded programs but that its fate is in question. She said the state funding is critical for the districts in the region because the center's programming is extensive.

"There's not any district that we have not had a presence in, in some capacity," she said.

Dr. Ron Anderson, superintendent of the Jackson School District, said professional development is necessary, with or without state funding.

"Staff development is critical," Anderson said. "In fact, it's required by law."

Anderson said it would be possible to replace the state programming in his district, but on a smaller scale.

"I'm sure it would be difficult to match what they're doing," he said. Smaller districts, he said, would lack the manpower to replace the services.

State education officials are working to restore the money. Interim commissioner of education Bert Schulte said he is still hopeful and open to discussion.

"I have some optimism," Schulte said. "We want to remain optimistic that there will be some restoration of the funds."

Mayer said restoring the funds at a lower level, if at all, will be a challenge given the economic climate.

"I think the possibility exists that we could get some money back into this fund," Mayer said. "However, at this point, I think it's going to be difficult."

The money appropriated for teacher development programs came under criticism in recent budgeting cycles. Mayer said some legislators wanted more oversight. The state of the economy will influence the appropriation this year, he said.

"We have to look for areas where we can make cuts that won't hurt as bad as other areas," he said.



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