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Neb. Lawmakers Hope to Drop Bonuses for National Board-Certified Teachers

Nebraska lawmakers seem poised to drop a master teacher program that rewards national board-certified teachers with $5,000 bonuses. This comes just two years after the state finally funded a program that lawmakers established in 2000 to reward those educators.  

Since the program's inception in 1987, the idea of rewarding teachers who meet the certification bar set by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, with additional pay, usually through either stipends or bonuses, has fallen in and out of favor with state lawmakers around the country. Often these policy changes have moved with the economic winds. Education Week's Stephen Sawchuk found that during the Great Recession, for example, the number of states offering such incentives plunged from 38 to 31, representing a 20 percent decline. At last count, just 28 states continue to offer such incentives.

While lawmakers have wavered on the idea, teachers' unions have not. The very idea of national board-certified teachers, veteran educators that go above and beyond what is required of them from their state licensing boards, is often attributed to the late American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker. Today, teachers' unions tend to see the bonuses as an attractive alternative to merit pay systems that reward teachers, not based on their credentials, but instead on factors that many educators argue are largely outside of their control, namely their students' performance on standardized tests.

Along those lines, Maddie Fennell, the executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association, made an impassioned plea for saving the state's master teacher program in front of the legislature's education committee.

"This program is the only support the state gives for teaching excellence, and it must be retained," testified Fennell, reports The Lincoln Journal Star.

The newspaper reports that the bill's sponsor, Sen. Steve Halloran, doesn't question the merits of the program, but instead whether it's appropriate for the state to foot the bill.

"There are all kinds of certifications for various professions and to my knowledge, none of them are provided through state funding," he said.

In neighboring Kansas, the state leaves it up to districts to pay for $1,000 stipends for board-certified educators. Nebraska's education committee chairman Sen. Mike Groene is similarly recommending that the decision of whether to reward these educators should be left up to school districts. 

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