FEB. 24, 2012 -- State coffers may be booming thanks to a rebounding economy, but some teachers across South Carolina could lose due to proposed cuts put forward by the House Ways and Means Committee.
This week, the committee voted to halt the funding for at least a year of an annual supplement paid out to public K-12 educators who have successfully completed a grueling, three-year National Board Certification process.
Teachers already enrolled in the program wouldn’t see their supplements end. New teachers who want to attempt certification would not be allowed to receive the money.
That supplement, doled out in $7,500 and $10,000 annual bumps to some of the top teachers in the state, costs $68 million a year. There’s no projection available for how much more it would cost to add newly Board-certified teachers to the program.
Interestingly, keeping new enrollees from benefitting from their work to get more credentials comes as the Ways and Means Committee voted for a budget that was nearly $1 billion higher than the last fiscal year’s budget, thanks to increased tax revenue collections.
Some say program should stop
S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais and some legislators, such as House Education Committee chairman Phil Owens (R-Easley), don’t believe that it makes economic sense to continue the program.
Zais’ office contends, and is supported by several legislators, that there is no direct correlation between the millions in national board supplements and student achievement increases. In short: no bang, big bucks.
Owens said that he would like to see the $68 million redirected back into baseline student funding, so that all the teachers across the state could benefit “and not just the ones whose lives allow them to go through the (certification) process.”
Owens argued that in South Carolina’s “current economic state” it doesn’t make sense to keep spending money in this manner. He also said that South Carolina’s teacher pay is $300 higher than the Southeastern average.
Currently, the state spends $1,880 on each student annually, despite state law requiring a number closer to $2,700. The committee’s budget plan would increase that amount to close to $2,100.
While still lower than what the state mandates, the legislature would have to vote in a special law, called a proviso, to circumvent the higher amount. The legislature has done this consistently in recent years.
Owens, in lock step with Zais, has argued that a better way to reward good teaching is to implement “pay for performance” raises open to all teachers.
Lots of arguing ahead
Democrats in the House have pledged to fight the issue on the floor. And if it should get to the Senate, Owens should expect an even chillier reception.
Sen. John Courson (R-Columbia) chairs the Senate Education Committee and has already vowed to fight against dropping the annual supplement.
“We are currently number three nationally in the number of National Board certified teachers,” said Courson, who sees the supplement as an integral piece of the state’s economic future.
Courson worries that if the supplement disappears, there would be an exodus of some of the state’s best-prepared teachers for greener economic pastures.
Jackie B. Hicks, president of the S.C. Education Association, wonders how the legislature paid for the supplements during the lean times of the Great Recession, but now wants to cut them.
Hicks responded tersely to sallies by Zais and Owens that there’s not been direct student improvement due to the money spent on the certification supplements with a question. “Where would South Carolina’s scores be without them?” she asks. Hicks, while not satisfied with the state’s standardized testing scores and national rankings, said she thought they would be lower without the teachers that have gone through the certification process.
Hicks also wonders how pay-for-performance would work for special education teachers working with some of the most seriously affected student populations, as some of those students have little realistic chance of meeting grade-level expectations.
Crystal ball: Cutting National Board supplements may make some fiscal sense, but it makes no political sense. One Republican representative who supports cutting, said he knew it was going nowhere in the current political and economic climate. That being said, observers are beginning to wonder what’s the future for K-12 education when education and “furthering yourself” are so clearly undervalued by so many state leaders, especially after Gov. Nikki Haley’s gubernatorial budget for next year includes $80 million in education cuts despite her claims that she increased K-12 spending.