Yesterday, ten members of the House Education Committee signed a letter addressed to state Education Commissioner Johnny Key expressing concerns about a proposed rule change that would scale back stipends for Arkansas teachers with National Board Certification.
I wrote about this issue last week, when the Arkansas Education Association issued a statement juxtaposing Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s recent announcement of a new $3 million public investment in Teach For America, the nontraditional teacher certification nonprofit, with the Education Department’s proposal to reduce stipends paid to National Board Certified Teachers.
Now, legislators are stepping in, led by Rep. Michael John Gray (D-Augusta), the House Minority Leader. Eight other Dems signed the letter, along with one Republican on the committee: Rep. Charlotte Douglas (R-Alma), who is herself a former teacher.
The letter says, in part:
As you are well aware, the proposed revisions have generated a great deal of comment and concern from our state’s educators who have undertaken the daunting process of becoming National Board Certified. These educators have, by their deeds, proven their interest in becoming the best teachers they can be. Unfortunately, instead of communicating our respect and appreciation for their efforts, many of these individuals perceive the proposed revisions as the exact opposite.
Having reviewed the information … it appears to us that your agency is attempting by regulatory action to make changes to the statutes concerning the National Board Certification that should be made through the legislative process.
In the early 2000s, the legislature passed a law requiring the state to pay $5,000 annual bonuses to National Board Certified Teachers. The number of NBCTs has grown dramatically since then — there are now about 2,900 in the state, costing about $13.8 million yearly, according to the Education Department — and the department says by 2018 it won’t have the money to pay the full stipends. Thus, it’s proposed a rule change to gradually phase out the stipends to those teachers who have received them for ten years. (The rule is currently in a public comment period and is expected to go before the state Board of Education this month.)
Of course, the Education Department could pay the stipends if the legislature appropriated the money to do so. These Democrats (and one Republican) say that means the issue needs to go before the General Assembly.
“We would encourage the State Board of Education and the ADE to withdraw the proposed revisions to the … rules and instead bring forward proposals for both statutory and fiscal legislation … for consideration in the upcoming Fiscal Session or a Special Session,” the letter states.
But will the Republican legislative majority (Rep. Douglas aside) be amenable to bumping up the appropriation for NCBTs? Surely, surely. In the 2015 legislative session, a House resolution titled “To honor Arkansas National Board Certified Teachers and to recognize their positive impact on Arkansas students” passed the chamber with unanimous support.