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Lawmakers Trying To Expand Career-Ladder Pilot in Arizona

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Boosted by a recent study linking Arizona's career-ladder program for teachers to higher student achievement, some state lawmakers are trying to expand the five-year-old pilot program.

The career-ladder program currently operates in 14 school districts. It provides additional state funding to the districts, which have been allowed to create their own programs within certain guidelines.

In each district, teachers are assigned to a career level based on competency and performance criteria, and are given larger salaries when they progress to a higher level. Teachers at the higher levels are encouraged and expected to play a larger role in mentoring other teachers and in curriculum development.

The program has the backing of the Arizona Education Association.

A bill approved by the House education committee would allow 30 additional districts to join the program by the 1994-95 school year.

A Senate-passed bill, however, would make the project a permanent program, but would not expand it. The authorization for the current program expires this year.

The House bill also faces a major obstacle in the state's continuing fiscal crisis. Since the beginning of the legislative session, lawmakers have been grappling with ways to eliminate the state deficit, which is projected to be between $300 million and $400 million.

Although no new fiscal plan has been adopted by any legislative committee, aides said that lawmakers are considering both tax increases and spending cuts to balance the budget.

Current education spending, observers said, would probably be exempt from any cuts. But legislators will be chary of taking on new costs by expanding the career-ladder program, they added.

Those favoring expanding the career-ladder program said their hand was strengthened by a recent report that found a "definite increase" in student achievement after the program was introduced.

The study by researchers from Arizona State University noted that student-achievement levels were already higher in the seven districts that initially took part in the program than in a comparison group of districts. But the gap between the districts widened after the project was launched in the 1985-86 school year, the study concluded.

Louann A. Bierlein, the assistant director of education studies at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at asu, said she believes the legislature may vote to expand the program because the new participants would not be eligible to receive any additional money for two years.

Under the House bill, participating districts must spend at least a year, without additional funds, planning their program.

By the 1992-93 school year, she said, the state is likely to have solved its fiscal problems. "Most people think there will be money by then," she said.

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