OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers searched Tuesday for ways to continue funding an annual stipend for nationally certified public school teachers that is expected to cost the state more than $16 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
Members of the House Education Committee met to study the National Board Certified Teacher program that became a hot-button issue last year after newly elected state Superintendent Janet Barresi's budget eliminated funding for the $5,000 annual stipend.
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved supplemental funding earlier this year to pay the bonuses but also has imposed a moratorium on new teachers becoming eligible for the program.
Rep. Ann Coody, the chairman of the committee, said most lawmakers want to continue the program but have concerns over the increasing costs now that more than 3,200 educators are expected to qualify for the stipend by next year.
"I would like to find a permanent funding solution, and that was the goal of having the study," said Coody, R-Lawton. "We need to reward our most dedicated teachers."
Among the ideas that Coody said have been discussed are reducing the stipend for new teachers who become certified, limiting the length teachers can receive the stipend to 10 years and requiring board certified teachers to become mentors to other teachers seeking certification. But Coody said any changes to the program would apply only to newly certified teachers.
"Whatever we do, I don't want to break any promises that were already made," she said.
Joel Robison, Barresi's chief of staff at the Oklahoma Department of Education, said the state superintendent also supports the program but was forced to eliminate funding in last year's budget because of fiscal restraints.
"It wasn't a judgment on the value or the efficacy of the program," Robison said. "It was just the reality of the budget numbers she was handed."
Achieving National Board Certified Teacher status, which requires candidates to complete a rigorous assessment based on standards for their certificate areas, can boost a teacher's annual salary beyond what they would earn for obtaining a master's or even a doctorate degree.
When the program was first enacted in 1998, 39 teachers qualified for the stipend for an annual cost to the state of $195,000, but those numbers increased dramatically each year. The cost of the program nearly doubled after fiscal year 2006 when the law was changed to include speech pathologists, audiologists and psychologists who receive a separate national certification in their field.