Policy Brief

'Career Ladder' at Risk in Arizona

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Arizona’s much-heralded teacher “career ladder”—one of the longest-standing differentiated-pay programs in the nation—is in jeopardy after a state court ruling that declared it unconstitutional because not all the state’s districts can participate.

The program allows each participating district to place teachers in different compensation levels, based on their involvement in professional development, assumption of additional roles and responsibilities, and monitoring of students’ attainment of district-set targets.

It began in 1985, during a period of widespread state experimentation with differentiated pay.

Many such efforts from the 1980s programs later folded after running into implementation problems, including opposition by teachers’ unions, which objected to vague criteria for identifying teachers for bonuses.

The Arizona program, ironically, could be a victim of its own success. Currently, 28 out of the state’s more than 200 districts take part, but state lawmakers haven’t provided expansion funding since the 1994 fiscal year.

The 38,000-student Gilbert school system, a suburban district outside Phoenix, sued the state because it was not permitted to offer a career ladder. In a Feb. 12 ruling, Superior Court Judge Dean Fink agreed and ruled the program invalid under the state’s constitution.

State schools chief Tom Horne said he expects to appeal the decision.

For now, the program remains in effect while the state legislature debates whether to increase funding or allow school boards to increase property taxes to pay for it.

But if an appeal isn’t successful and such funding doesn’t come through, the ruling could affect teachers’ salaries in participating districts. Some teachers earn thousands of dollars more through the program than they would under salary schedules.

The career ladder is also one component of the state’s bid for federal Race to the Top funding.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Vol. 29, Issue 23, Page 15

Published in Print: March 3, 2010, as 'Career Ladder' At Risk in Arizona
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