I started my career in education in the late 1980’s. To increase my salary, I enrolled in graduate courses and the I could take a purchase order from the school when I enrolled. My principal or department head needed to “approve” the course, but it was informal. When I started I was in control of my professional learning, and the school supported me.
About a decade in, the practice changed (of course I was at a different school, but the practices we re standard in the state where I live and worked). I had to pay for the course with a credit card and be reimbursed after I had passed the course, and the course had to be part of a program in which I was enrolled. I ended up lending my tuition to my employer–to get a benefited that was part of the master contract and I no longer had the option to enroll in a single offering that would help my teaching.
Later, my colleagues and I were expected to pay for courses upfront, and we would be reimbursed only if the program was directly related to our current teaching assignment. This was the policy even in those schools in which teachers were encouraged to earn multiple certificates.
When I left teaching, I had a PhD, so enrolling in formal programs was kind of unnecessary. I was expected to fully find my own professional development and if I didn’t I would loose my license. During this entire process, however, there was an emerging practice of schools sponsoring courses, and teachers could take any of those courses at no charge.
As I recall, the last “free graduate course” I had the opportunity to attend was teaching us the best ways to differentiate lessons based on learning styles.
So, yes, things have changed for teachers in the last generation, and yes, leaders are still promoting wacky ideas about teaching.