The Edmond Sun

February 24, 2012

OUR VIEW: Teacher certification payment causes concern

The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Educators have become pitted against legislators once again over a program that should have brought nothing but good things to our schools and students. However, teachers and lawmakers alike have soured over the National Board Certified Teachers program due to insufficient state funds to keep up promised annual payments to those teachers who earned the designation.

In 1998, the Legislature agreed to pay $5,000 a year per teacher earning the designation for up to 10 years delivering a total of $50,000 to those who put in the time, money and effort to gain the certification.

An unforeseen consequence of the state promise is that in 1998 only 36 teachers received the certification. That number grew annually. By 2007, 438 additional teachers attained the certification that year alone. There are now a total of 2,994 NBC teachers in Oklahoma set to earn a $5,000 a year stipend for their 10 years. In Edmond, there are 137 NBC teachers.

The state made a partial payment in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years. This academic year the NBC teachers will receive no stipend at all, causing them to cry foul. Rightly so, as a promise is a promise and those teachers budgeted on those funds coming to them. And it’s not the first time the Legislature has played fast and loose with teachers’ purse strings. Just look at the number of years state pension funds were not fully funded.

The real question we must ask is if it was wise to make this promise to teachers to begin with? We think not and we’re glad to see the Legislature place a moratorium on payments to those gaining the certification going forward.

While it’s true that the program is rigorous and the certification is difficult to obtain, it’s also true that few studies exist that quantify the program’s effectiveness in achieving student results. Oklahoma far outstrips its neighboring states in number of certified teachers but continues to rank low in educational attainment nationally.

Superintendent Janet Barresi is asking the Oklahoma Legislature to restore $157.9 million back to the State Department of Education’s budget for next fiscal year, but there’s no guarantee those funds will materialize. She was wise to ask for the NBCT funds to be a line item because it allows her to protect the funds for now, but makes it easier to eliminate the funds in the future once the state’s current obligations are met.

If teachers truly want to keep the stipend program, then a measurement of its success must be developed to prove its worthiness to taxpayers. Just like in any other industry, individuals must weigh the costs versus the benefits of continued professional development.

We hope teachers will continue to develop their skills while understanding that difficult budget times call for tough choices to be made.