Lawmaker seeks $3,000 bonuses for nationally certified teachers

Lawmaker seeks $3,000 bonuses for nationally certified teachers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- When Travis Lemon became a nationally certified math teacher in 2004, he had to spend $1,250 to earn one of teaching's most prestigious designations.

He says the cost of the voluntary, rigorous, multiyear assessment conducted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is worth it because it offers unparalleled professional growth.

"It really gets you to focus on what the students are receiving on their end," said Lemon, a math teacher at American Fork Junior High School. "It's a huge reflection process."

It's also a process with little financial reward for Utah teachers.

The state doesn't give teachers any extra cash for earning the certification, although some districts do. Lemon gets a $500 bonus from the Alpine School District and the state used a federal grant to pay for the other half of Lemon's assessment fee.

One state lawmaker says Bird and other nationally certified teachers in Utah should get more than pride with their certification.

Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, is sponsoring a bill that would give nationally certified teachers a $3,000 annual bonus. The state would pay $1,500 and local school districts would be required to match it. National board certification is valid for 10 years.

"We've talked for years and years about compensating teachers who go above and beyond. We haven't had an opportunity to do so in a very good manner. Here's an opportunity to," Bird said.

Nationally certified teachers are required to build a portfolio that includes student work samples, assignments, videotapes and have their classroom teaching skill analyzed. They are also tested on their knowledge of the subjects they teach.

While nationally certified teachers make up 2 percent of all teachers nationwide, board certified teachers won 24 percent of the 2007 State Teacher of the Year awards and the past two National Teacher of the Year winners were board certified.

"These are the best of the best," Bird said.

In Utah, only about one half of one percent of licensed educators are nationally certified.

With 124 board certified teachers, Utah ranks 42nd nationally.

Not surprisingly, the states with the most nationally certified teachers offer the largest incentives.

North Carolina leads the country with 12,770 board certified teachers, or about 13 percent of its teaching force. It pays the entire assessment fee, gives teachers three paid days off to prepare for the exams and gives those who become certified a 12 percent pay raise.

Like Utah, North Carolina is a fast-growing state that constantly faces teaching shortages. It uses its incentives program to lure teachers away from other states, many of whom are already board certified.

Bird said he visited several school districts and asked why more teachers weren't nationally certified. He said teachers told him that earning a masters degree was a better financial deal than becoming nationally certified.

"They spend a lot of time, they spend a lot of effort and a lot of energy -- and there is currently little to no compensation for that effort," he said.

Lemon said he was persuaded to undergo national board certification by a teacher he respected, regardless of the costs. However, he said many more teachers would likely follow in his footsteps if there were a financial reward.

"Other states do offer quite a bit more of an incentive and there are several states that have thousands of national board certified teachers. I think it would help," he said.

Teacher compensation has been a hot topic at the Capitol the past several years. Utah has long lagged behind the national average in teacher pay. Earlier this year, the American Federation of Teachers reported that the average teacher salary in 2005 was $47,602. The average Utah salary was $37,006, ranking 48th nationally.

Kim Campbell, president of the state's largest teachers union, the Utah Education Association, said she supports incentives to become nationally certified and appreciates Bird bringing attention to the issue of teacher compensation.

"It's one of those things that can make a difference, not only for teachers, but for students," she said.

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman has said improving teacher pay is one of his top priorities, although he didn't include bonuses for nationally certified teachers in his budget.

Bird is seeking $275,000 to pay for House Bill 84. However, if Bird's bill becomes law it would likely need more funding in the future. The bill would pay for the state's share of the bonus for 183 teachers -- 59 more than the state already has.

Louisiana, which pays for most of the assessment fee and gives board certified teachers an annual $5,000 bonus, had 183 teachers become certified in the past year alone.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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