LITTLE ROCK — Ten members of the state House Education Committee are objecting to a proposal by the state Department of Education to scale down a program that rewards teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

LITTLE ROCK — Ten members of the state House Education Committee are objecting to a proposal by the state Department of Education to scale down a program that rewards teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.


Currently, the state provides board-certified teachers with a $5,000 annual bonus for as long as they maintain their certification. The Education Department has proposed a rule change, currently posted for public comment, under which a newly certified teacher would receive $5,000 a year for five years and then amounts that would gradually decrease over the next five years to $1,000, after which the teacher would no longer be eligible for a bonus.


In a letter dated Thursday, House Minority Leader Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, called on state Education Commissioner Johnny Key — a former state senator — to withdraw the proposed rule change. Nine other members of the House Education Committee, including eight Democrats and one Republican, signed the letter.


"It appears to us that your agency is attempting by regulatory action to make changes to the statutes concerning the National Board Certification that should be made through the legislative process," Gray wrote. "As a former member of the General Assembly, you understand the concerns that this perceived course of action raises with regard to the separation of powers doctrine and the appropriation process."


Gray also said in the letter that the proposal "seems to be a continuation of the disturbing trend of devaluing the efforts of educators to improve their knowledge and skills, which ultimately benefits the students of our states’ public schools."


He asked Key to scrap the proposed rule change and instead present proposals for legislation.


The other lawmakers who signed the letter were Reps. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma; Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock; Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville; Charles Armstrong, D-Little Rock; James Ratliff, D-Imboden; John Walker, D-Little Rock; Scott Baltz, D-Pocahontas; Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna; and Mark McElroy, D-Tillar.


Douglas said in an interview the bonus program has been "very successful."


"I’ve talked to my superintendents, and they said this program is one of the best things they have to bring rigor and competency into the classroom," she said. "If that program is that good, then it may be worth us trying to save it."


Education Department spokeswoman Kim Friedman said in a statement Friday, "These revisions were developed in collaboration with an advisory group consisting of National Board-certified teachers. With the increasing number of candidates who achieve certification each year and the increasing number of candidates who renew certification, the total cost to fund the bonuses will soon exceed the amount of available funding."


Friedman said the law that created the program states that the payments "shall apply only to the extent that funds are appropriated." She also noted that the proposed rule change cannot take effect unless it receives legislative approval.


"The proposed changes provide for continuity and sustainability of the NBCT bonus program," she said.


Gray noted that Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently announced the state will spend $3 million over the next three years to help the nonprofit group Teach for America put as many as 150 new teachers in southern and eastern Arkansas.


"If you’re going to put $3 million into Teach for America, then surely we can find enough to cover the shortfall until we can get this thing to a legislative session and figure out the best course of action," he said. "It’s a program that works."