Will state end bonuses for national teacher certification?

December 13, 2009 

A teacher program, billed for the past dozen years as a way to improve South Carolina's public schools, is on the chopping block.

Some S.C. educators say the program, known as National Board Certification, is a failure that is not increasing student achievement, is costing the state $62 million annually and deserves to be cut during these tight economic times. The state gives more than 6,000 certified teachers an additional $7,500 in salary per year.

Others point to research they say proves the program enhances instruction and student learning and rewards the nation's best teachers.

The program's precarious future will take center stage today during a meeting of the Education Oversight Committee, the state's education watchdog group.

Its members are expected to recommend these two changes to lawmakers that will essentially sunset the program:

• Eliminating the $7,500 annual stipend after July 1. Teachers who already are National Board certified or in the process of becoming certified prior to July 1 will continue to receive the stipend.

• Limiting to 10 years the length of time a National Board-certified teacher can receive the stipend.

State investment in the program has increased steadily as the number of certified teachers has increased, growing from a $30.4 million program in fiscal year 2001-02 to a $62 million program today.

South Carolina now has nearly 6,000 National Board-certified teachers in classrooms, ranking it third in the nation. Only Florida and North Carolina have more teachers who have completed the one- to three-year certification process.

While most states provide incentive pay for teachers who qualify, South Carolina is among the most generous.

The state's school districts have bought in as well.

Many districts give an additional stipend to their teachers worth as much as $5,500 a year. The Beaufort County district gives $2,000 a year for 10 years.

But state budget cuts and declining revenues, paired with a lack of definitive research on the effectiveness of the program, have soured many on the program.

"We just can no longer afford the program," said Mike Brenan, a member of the EOC.

"With declining dollars, you've got to make tough choices. Plus, there is no underlying research that directly shows it improves student achievement," he said. "If we had lots of money, maybe we could continue the investment and see, on a longer basis, if it got results."

Advocates of the program, including the S.C. Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, say the stipends keep quality teachers in the classroom.

"(The money stays) in the classroom versus going to administration or going elsewhere," said CERRA's Jenna Hallman. "If you're able to keep a teacher in the classroom, (then) they're going to improve and impact student achievement."

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