A plan approved this week by the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee appears to be a fair compromise on rewarding teachers who become nationally certified.
With severe cuts in state education spending, the debate over whether to pay bonuses to certified teachers has become heated at both the state and local level. Under current standards, the state pays teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards a bonus of $7,500 a year for the 10 years they are certified. Teachers have the option of renewing their certification after 10 years.
The bonus money often is supplemented by local school districts. Rock Hill, for example, offers an extra incentive of $3,000 a year to certified teachers.
For years, however, critics in the Legislature have threatened to cut the bonuses, saying the incentives don't pay off in terms of improved education. And now, the state's financial crisis has pushed the debate to the forefront.
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We think that simply cutting the entire bonuses for teachers now receiving them would be unfair. State and local officials made a covenant with teachers to pay them incentives over 10 years, and they need to abide by that agreement.
Imagine the plight of a young teacher who had signed a contract for a new house or other large investment based on the assumption that he or she would continue to receive annual bonuses. The sudden loss of $7,500 or more in annual income would be devastating.
But state lawmakers are justified in reviewing the policy for teachers who become certified in the future. The plan approved by the Ways and Means Committee would allow only 1,100 teachers a year to undergo the board certification program and would limit teachers to getting only one round of the 10-year incentive.
South Carolina is one of the most generous states when it comes to board certification. North Carolina gives teachers a 12 percent raise for winning certification. Washington state gives $5,000 plus another $5,000 to teachers who agree to work in troubled schools.
While we think the state is justified in tweaking its policy, we hope lawmakers don't go to the extreme of eliminating incentives altogether. Teacher certification is a valuable training and evaluation process that benefits the state's educational system in a variety of ways.
Fans of merit pay for teachers should appreciate the certification program. It rewards good teachers who seek to become better teachers.
Getting certified is a rigorous process that takes up to three years to complete. Teachers must create a portfolio that includes intensive writing assignments, student work and a video of themselves teaching. They also must take a six-part, three-hour test.
Teachers are unlikely to submit to such an ordeal without the promise of some incentives if they pass. State lawmakers and local school boards are entitled to trim those incentives, but it would be a mistake to get rid of them altogether, even in hard times.