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Days after a panel charged with oversight of the state's public schools voted to cut stipends for teachers who earn National Board certification, the Beaufort County School District announced 18 of its teachers were certified through the program this year.
That brings the total number of county teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to 130. Fourteen teachers earned the certification in 2008.
"National Board Certification is a very rigorous process," said Superintendent Valerie Truesdale. "It challenges the most seasoned professional and stretches them to a new level of expertise."
South Carolina now has 7,297 teachers certified by the National Board -- 14 percent of the state's teaching force. It ranks third in the total number certified, behind North Carolina and Florida, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement.
But the incentives drawing teachers to the certification could end, at both the state and local levels.
The Education Oversight Committee voted unanimously Monday to cut the $7,500 annual stipends given to National Board certified teachers.
The stipends, along with related expenses, cost South Carolina $62 million annually. With flat revenues and declining sales-tax collections, some say the program is a luxury South Carolina can no longer afford.
If the panel's recommendation is approved by state lawmakers, it would only affect teachers who apply for or earn national board certification after July 1. Teachers already certified or in the process of becoming certified before July 1 still would get the stipend.
"We don't have the revenue to support it," Mike Brenan said to his fellow Education Oversight Committee members Monday. "And we don't have the underlying data ... that (the program) supports student achievement."
The $7,500-a-year bonus is paid to each teacher who passes the national certification process, including exams, essays, documentation of teaching practices and a teaching portfolio.
Local districts often pay an additional stipend to their nationally certified teachers. The Beaufort County district pays a $2,000 annual bonus for 10 years.
County school board members considered eliminating the stipend at their October retreat, anticipating a budget shortfall for the 2010-11 school year.
Jackie Rosswurm, the district's chief of human resources, said no formal discussion of the stipends has occurred since the retreat. The bonus will not be eliminated until the board approves the change and the budget is completed this spring.
The Oversight Committee says research is mixed on whether nationally board-certified teachers get better results from students than teachers who are not board certified.
However, Kathy Maness, director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, a professional organization for teachers, said the stipends are essential for state schools.
"Bottom line, they keep good teachers in the classroom," she said. "The only other way teachers can increase their pay is to go into administration."
Last year, the Oversight Committee also recommended the stipends be eliminated. But state lawmakers, who have the final say, voted to keep them.
The Columbia State contributed to this report.