NOTE, 11:49 a.m.: The headline on this item has been modified since its first publication. It originally read, “Governor says fully fund National Board Certified Teacher stipends, Ed. Dept. backs off change.”
On Monday, Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key told a legislative committee that his department is backing off a proposed rule change that had mobilized teachers in opposition. The change would have scaled back stipends to National Board Certified Teachers, who are currently paid a $5,000 bonus annually for achieving the prestigious certification.
Ten members of the House Education committee, led by Rep. Michael John Gray (D-Augusta), wrote a letter to Key on Friday urging reconsideration of the change. Key indicated Monday that Gov. Asa Hutchinson had asked him to withdraw the proposed rules from consideration by the state Board of Education.
“I’ve been in conversation with the governor on the national board rules, and he has requested that the department pull those at this time,” the commissioner said Monday before the joint Education Committee.
This may mean the legislature will have to come up about $3 million extra to make sure the stipends are funded. The Education Department had proposed scaling back the bonuses because it said the growing number of NBCTs in the state — there are currently 2,877 — threatened to create a shortfall in the program’s budget. Right now, the stipends cost the state about $13.8 million, but that’s projected to grow to $16.5 million by fiscal year 2018, which begins next summer. The department therefore had suggested the stipends be gradually phased out when teachers renew their National Board Certification (the certification must be renewed every ten years, although that will soon change to a five-year renewal cycle instead).
Gray and the other representatives said in their letter last week that such a change should be left up to the legislature, which mandated the bonuses for NBCTs by statute back in the early 2000s. Evidently, the governor agreed. (It should be noted that extra funding isn’t assured; the legislature could make a similar change to the one proposed by the Education Department and scale back the stipends by law.)
On a voice vote, legislators referred the issue the Adequacy subcommittee, a key branch of the Education committee that reviews and approves the funding formula underlying the bulk of public school funding in Arkansas.
The Arkansas Education Association praised Hutchinson for intervening. AEA president Brenda Robinson said the following:
We are very pleased that the Governor took swift action today to put the brakes on a detrimental rule change that had been proposed to the National Board Certified Teacher Program. This program has shown to be an effective tool to increase student achievement. Hundreds of educators across the State advocated for their students by speaking out against this rule change and the Governor heard their call. The Arkansas Education Association will work to ensure that lawmakers continue to hear educator voices as we move forward to secure the long term financial sustainability of this critically important program. Our focus is to make certain that the best teachers are in Arkansas’s classrooms so that our students have increased educational outcomes because we know that our students are counting on it.