House votes to fund, but end, teacher bonus program

ATLANTA – Teachers with a national certification would continue to get their 10 percent bonuses under legislation that narrowly passed the Georgia House of Representatives this morning, but the program would be closed to new enrollees.

House Bill 243, which passed 92-79, would allow teachers currently getting the bonus to keep it, provided money can be found for it in the state budget. That's a step toward keeping the salary increases in place, though Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed removing in favor of other teacher pay supplements he prefers.

The $12 million for the program would still have to be found for fiscal 2010 and future years, and Perdue would have to sign off on that funding.

But the bill's intent is to keep the bonuses in place for those who have a National Board Certification or are working to earn one, according to House Education Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth. Then it would close the bonus program to anyone who tries to get into it after March 1, Coleman said.

"We made a commitment to these people to do this," Coleman said.

State Rep. Jimmy Pruett, an Eastman Republican and one of Perdue's floor leaders in the House, said the bill isn't what the governor initially wanted, but the governor considers it "a step in the right direction."

Perdue's has proposed replacing the National Board Certification bonus, which depends on a certification from a national teachers group, with a bonus "Master Teachers" as decided by the state. That proposal hasn't moved forward in the House this year, but it's not supposed to start until at least 2011.

Some said the National Board Certification program improves teachers and student achievement, some said it doesn't. Several Democrats spoke against House Bill 243 Thursday, saying it ends the bonus program "in the name of saving this program," in House Minority Leader DuBose Porter's words.

"We pass this we say we don't care about moving forward in education," said Porter, D-Dublin. "So much of what we have done in Georgia, if we had just kept it going, would had made a different. If we ever funded (education) appropriately... we would be better off."

Porter also said that, if this bonus is ended, educators won't believe the state is serious about new teacher bonus programs which Perdue has proposed. Those programs include ther master teachers bonus, bonuses for math and science teachers and bonuses for the best principals.

Here's how a sampling of Middle Georgia legislators voted on House Bill 243, which would allow teachers with the National Board Certification to keep their 10 percent bonuses, but would close the program to potential new enrollees.

State Rep. Jim Cole, R-Forsyth: YesState Rep. James "Bubber" Epps, D-Dry Branch: NoState Rep. Buddy Harden, R-Cordele: YesState Rep. Lynmore James, D-Montezuma: NoState Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon: NoState Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins: YesState Rep. Bobby Parham, D-Milledgeville: NoState Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon: YesState Rep. DuBose Porter, D-Dublin: NoState Rep. Jimmy Pruett, R-Eastman: YesState Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon: NoState Rep. Tony Sellier, R-Fort Valley: YesState Rep. Willie Talton, R-Warner Robins: Yes