I should begin this post with a statement of deep gratitude to the state of Oklahoma, the Legislature, and
Education Leadership Oklahoma for giving me and so many others the opportunity to hold my practice up to scrutiny, to challenge myself to work to the highest national standards of teaching and learning devised. I was awarded a full scholarship to go through the National Board process, to video my classes, to analyze and reflect on my teaching. I have repaid my state by staying in the classroom, full time. I have worked with new candidates in support groups and other professional development settings. I have continued to be a reflective teacher and an asset to pubic education in our state. The state's investment in my expertise has been mutually beneficial. I've seen how important this program has been to students in our state; I know we are a national leader in the NBC world. I know how strong we used to be. Now, I'm watching it be slowly strangled to death.
It will be a busy week at the Capitol as lawmakers try to slide out from under their responsibilities to National Board Certified Teachers, transfer that responsibility as yet another unfunded mandates to school districts, and cut the current stipend for NBCTs to a $1000 line in the salary schedule.
Representative Denney's HB1659 will have its first hearing in the Appropriations and Budget Committee Monday morning. I have grave reservations about most portions of the bill, and need to share my concerns.
Historically, Education Leadership Oklahoma has awarded scholarships for the entire amount of the NBPTS portfolio fees of $2700. ELO provides, free of charge, intensive training and organized support meetings for all candidates -- those who received the scholarships and those who decided to pay their own way. Even those pay-your-own candidates were reimbursed for their fees when they attained NBC. Usually ELO awarded 400 scholarships and worked with first-year candidates and Advanced Candidates who have two more years of active candidacy. But, we have been working under a Legislative moratorium on scholarships for the past few years.
Because of that, the only candidates in the state are a handful of third-year Advanced Candidates. Last year, with no scholarships, and no hope of a stipend (the other part of the moratorium), only 9 candidates went through the process. We dropped from 400 candidates to nine. NINE.
Representative Denney's bill reinstates some of what we've lost...but with strings.
Now ELO will choose no more than 100 new candidates (the selection committee is cut from this bill, so ELO is charged to come up with some kind of rules of selection) to receive "a portion" of the fees for the process. Specifically, $1300 of the $2700 cost. Candidates will also receive a $500 payment for expenses. I'll be thrilled to see new candidates being supported by the state, but the amount of support might not be enough for many teachers who are trying to support their families. It troubles me deeply that new candidates will be expected to work under a different set of expectations than all the rest of us have. The law's changes will make pursuing NBC more difficult.
The troublesome phrase 'availability of funds' is literally stricken from the language. That's because Rep. Denney has cleverly figured out how to make the National Board Fund disappear. Under this bill, the state is no longer responsible for paying NBCTs anything. They won't have to worry about whether school districts have the money. Not their problem any more.
That will free up that $15 million to use as merit pay for the teacher evaluation program. We will be losing support of a nationally-recognized board certification, to be replaced by an unproven state patchwork program and the junk science of merit pay based on test scores.
But I digress.
HB1659 crosses out "no school or school district shall be liable for payment of bonuses.' That's because under her bill, the entire responsibility for 'bonuses' will NOW be the districts' She has added a line in the minimum salary schedule for NBC. For the year 2013-2014, instead of receiving the $5000 bonus promised to us by the state, NBCTs will receive a $1000 line in the salary schedule...to be paid by the districts. NO mention of any financial support for this burden from the state.
Let's do some math. The Legislature usually budgets between $12 million and $15 million for these bonuses. They now send the money to the districts, minus our FICA payment that the state, as our 'employer' SHOULD pay. The districts now bear the cost of processing and dispersing the bonuses to NBCTs. There are 3056 NBCTs in Oklahoma, not all are eligible for the bonus, and many have retired. But, let's pretend they're all full-time teachers in a public school in the state. NOW individual districts must come up with $1000 per NBCT to be in compliance with the law.
In my district, Norman Public Schools, with 143 NBCTs, that means nearly $150,000 must be diverted from an already strapped budget to comply with the law. This in a time when the Legislature has consistently cut funding to public schools. Norman has lost $3.6 million since 2008, with 1500 more students. But, if Rep. Denney's bill becomes law, now Norman will have to cut programs, lay off teachers and support personnel, do something to find that $150,000 to pay NBCTs a portion of the stipend the state promised to pay. Instead of being a point of pride to have NBCTs employed in your district, now it will be a financial liability. Now, if the state would continue providing districts the funds for the NBCT payments, we could start a conversation -- beginning with the reminder that $5000 was the state's promise to us.
Now, remember the state's "generous" contribution toward the candidates' process? If a candidate certifies in the first year of candidacy, the $1000 bonus will not cover the teacher's costs of certification. It will take two years to recoup the money spent. Again, the rules will have substantially changed for any new candidates, and I'm saddened that new candidates won't have the same support I had, and that 3055 other NBCTs had.
There is no mention in the bill about support for Advanced Candidates, and the NBC process is designed to be a multi-year project. I guess Advanced Candidates will have to pay for any retake work themselves, making it even more expensive upfront, and for years after certification. These are all considerable issues for a teacher thinking about NBC.
Now, what's positive about this? Putting the 'bonuses' into the salary schedule allows teachers (I believe) to count this amount toward their teacher retirement. Stipends were specifically excluded. This would have been a help to me as I face retirement. But I would receive $4000 less each year. So, I think I'd've preferred the money in my pocket.
An intriguing statement on page 9 that is never referred to or explained: "It is the intent of the Legislature that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education incorporate the National Board certification portfolio development into all programs in education leading to a master’s level degree." We had an amazing program at Southern Nazarene University that did just that. The program died when it became apparent the State Legislature was backing away from its commitments to NBCTs and ELO. Now state universities are just supposed to trust them?
I understand the 'emergency' clause with which this bill concludes is just a formality, but it infuriated me. "It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval" Emergency? Oh really? For whom? The Legislature who slid right out from under its responsibilities to the NBCTs of the state, or the school districts all over the state who will be faced with another crippling unfunded mandate?
There is little in this bill I can support.