Teacher Certification Plans Dodge Budget Cuts
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
Most states have been able to stave off deep budget cuts to programs that reward teachers who complete National Board Certification, which is regarded as a way to identify qualified and accomplished teachers.
But while these programs have emerged relatively unscathed this year, many education experts predict that next year these programs could be on the chopping block.
"States are doing everything they can to keep these incentives in place because they're competing, not just state-to-state, but even ... district-to-district to keep the teachers they have and to attract new teachers," said Charlotte C. Postlewaite, chief education policy analyst at The Council of State Governments in Kentucky.
Experts say there's a twofold reason that certification programs survived deep budget cuts. First, many states view board certification as a key retention tool since teachers who go through the rigorous process can often earn extra pay for each of the 10 years that the certification lasts. Secondly, states are eyeing certification as a possible way to meet new mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind law that require "qualified" teachers in classrooms by 2005-2006.
"Obviously No Child Left Behind and the budget crisis are pushing this issue to the forefront," said Michelle Exstrom, policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "While legislators have always known that there is a teacher retention crisis and teacher recruitment crisis, they're quickly realizing that there is now a federal deadline for them to have a highly qualified teacher in the classroom," she told Stateline.org.
The 36 states that provide financial rewards to teachers who complete National Board Certification largely have held on to their incentive packages, said James Minichello, spokesman for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an independent board that is responsible for developing the certification process. The board was created in 1987 with the aim of designing a plan to retain, reward and advance accomplished teachers through a system of rigorous certification. It receives 55 percent of its funds from private foundations and companies and 45 percent from the federal government.
Getting board-certified is not quick or easy, as it often takes teachers up to three years to complete. About half of teachers who apply manage to get the certificate on the first attempt, Minichello said. To get certified, teachers must not only pass written tests, but also videotape their teaching and provide detailed analyses of their teaching. An estimated 24,000 teachers are board-certified, Minichello said.
Just this month, New Jersey announced it would pay all costs associated with teachers who complete board certification. The Garden State will pay the $2,300 board application fee and pay for up to six graduate course credits at certain New Jersey colleges and universities.
These are some of the other states that have held on to their incentive programs tied to board certification:
- Maryland will pay 75 percent of the $2,300 application fee for 500 teachers and match up to $2,000 any stipend that local school districts offer to board-certified teachers.
- Mississippi offers a $6,000 annual salary increase to board-certified teachers.
- North Carolina pays the $2,300 application fee, gives teachers three days off to prepare for certification and provides a 12 percent annual salary increase for board-certified teachers.
- South Carolina provides a $7,500 bonus to board-certified teachers and offers $2,300 loans to teachers seeking board certification, half of which will be waived once the teacher gets certified.
"I have not heard of a single state cutting back on those programs," said Jonathan Watts Hull, a policy analyst with the Southern Legislative Conference, a regional component of the Council of State Governments. "National Board-certified teachers are exactly the kind of teachers that many states want to have," he said. Of the 16 southern states that Hull examined for his report, "Filling In the Gaps: Solving Teacher Shortages," he said only Tennessee and Texas do not offer incentives tied to board certification.
But some state lawmakers aren't so sure their states can afford to keep these programs in today's tight fiscal crunch. "We've got to make some changes. We can't continue to go the way we're going," said South Carolina State Rep. Bob Walker (R). Walker was unsuccessful this year in his bid to scale back South Carolina's board certification program, which costs the state about $40 million. "It will come up next year ... because of the budget situation the way it is," he told Stateline.org.
"The story, by and large, is that these programs were relatively protected this year, but that state after state is projecting deep cuts next year," said Anne Heald, senior education researcher for the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.
In a yet-to-be-released institute study, Heald looked at 16 states that offered teacher financial incentives and found some "trimming" in teacher incentive programs in states such as Connecticut, Florida and Georgia. But Heald reiterated that the "real cuts" would come next year. Washington state's education department, for example, is expected to face a $2.4 billion deficit for its two-year budget period of 2003-2005, she said.
Tom Carroll, executive director of the nonpartisan National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, said he worries that budget cuts will derail teacher mentoring programs that he said are just as vital to retain novice teachers as board certification programs are to retain experienced teachers.
Connecticut and California both have excellent mentoring programs that team up novice teachers with veteran instructors, but "both programs are in jeopardy of being cut back," he said. Neither Connecticut nor California nailed down budgets for the year. The commission, which is co-chaired by former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt (D), earlier this year focused on teacher retention in a report "No Dream Denied: A Pledge For America's Children."
"If states face the same budget crisis [next year], they're going to have to cut bone and have to really slice through some very popular programs," Hull, of the Southern Legislative Conference, said. And these programs, he said, include teacher retention and recruitment programs.