A lot of teachers in Florida won't get raises this year. But the ones many consider to be the best will be hit even harder.
More than 8,000 teachers in Florida receive lucrative bonuses because they have national board certification — a distinction often called the gold standard for good teaching.
But under a new law Gov. Charlie Crist signed Tuesday, those bonuses will only last for 10 years and they will no longer be used to calculate retirement benefits. The same law also eliminates a related bonus those teachers could earn for mentoring other teachers.
"Do you value us or do you not value us?" said Sherrie Lee, a board certified teacher at Mount Vernon Elementary School in St. Petersburg who was getting both bonuses. She said she would continue to mentor teachers at her school, but asked, "What industry asks its employees to do consulting work for free?"
In a letter to Secretary of State Kurt Browning, Crist said the changes to the program were "disappointing" and referred to one particular change — reclassifying the award as a "bonus" for retirement calculations — as "a grave disservice."
For teachers seeking board certification, the new law also nixes a subsidy that paid 90 percent of their $2,500 application fee.
Legislators said the changes were necessary given a bleak budget that resulted in $332-million in cuts to education. Crist said he would work with the Legislature next year to undo them.
Overseen by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, board certification typically requires teachers to spend up to a year improving their skills through self-analysis, videotaping and portfolio building. The process is often described as grueling.
Florida has put a premium on those who pass. Since 1998, it has awarded board certified teachers bonuses worth about 10 percent of an average teacher's salary, or $4,270 last year. The teachers earn another 10 percent for mentoring.
The cuts to the program come just as the latest research on board certified teachers was released Wednesday.
Mandated by Congress, the National Research Council study looked in particular at board certified teachers in Florida and North Carolina. The conclusion: They do get bigger learning gains out of their students, even if it's not clear if it's the certification process that makes them better.
Ron Matus can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8873.