University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

SB 555: Changes to National Board Bonuses

In The View from the OEP on March 29, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Did you know that Arkansas has one of the highest percentages of National Board Certified teachers in the county?  With 2,901 Board-certified teachers making up about 7% of the public school teaching population we are in the top 10!

One of the reasons for such a relatively high rate of Board-certification may be the significant financial rewards provided by the state to teachers who achieve certification.  The state pays for certification fees and up to three days of substitute teachers for educators pursuing Board certification. In addition, teachers, counselors, library/media specialists, literacy specialists, math specialists, principals, assistant principals, and other instructional leaders can receive an annual bonus for Board certification. Currently, Board-certified teachers receive an annual bonus of $5,000 for a period of ten years. Given that about 100 Arkansas teachers get Board-certified each year, that’s $5 million in bonuses per cohort!

Changes may be in store for these bonuses, however.  The bonuses compile for each cohort and get pretty expensive, so it is important to ask if the bonuses for teachers are making a difference for students. It is also important to remember that many districts in the state provide additional financial incentives for Board certification.


Is it making a difference for Arkansas students?


There are no studies measuring the academic impact of Board-certified teachers on Arkansas students, but we can see what type of schools Board-certified teachers are working in. In 2013-14,  only 31% of the 2,172 NBC teachers in Arkansas were working with the most at-risk students in the state, those attending high-poverty schools in high-poverty districts (at least 70% of students on FRL). Conversely, 69% of NBC teachers were working in schools that were not high-poverty.

Even further, as we have addressed previously, NBC teachers in Arkansas are far more likely to work with the most-advantaged students: 22% of NBC serve students in the most advantaged 10% of Arkansas districts, while only 2% of NBC teachers work in the poorest 10% of districts.


Where Arkansas’ Board-certified teachers worked in 2013-14:


Differentiated Bonuses: SB 555


Many states offer additional bonuses to incentivize Board-certified teachers to work in high-need schools.   Under SB555, teachers receiving Board-certification after January 2018 will be eligible for differentiated bonuses depending upon where they teach.  Teachers teaching in more at-risk students will receive $10,000 per year for ten years, while those teaching less disadvantaged students will receive $2,500 annually for five years. You can find more about SB 555 in today’s policy brief.

School/ District where NBC is teaching High-poverty school in a high-poverty district High-poverty school in a non- high-poverty district Non-high-poverty school
Annual Bonus $10,000 $5,000 $2,500
Term 10 years 5 years 5 years

Teachers who are currently Board-certified will not be impacted by SB 555 and will continue to receive $5,000 per year for the remainder of the ten-year period. Board-certified teachers in high-poverty schools may, however, elect to receive the new bonus amounts.

Given the current distribution of NBC teachers in Arkasnas’ schools, these new bonus structure would save $1.6 million per cohort.

Good idea for kids and teachers!


Nearly half of Arkansas’ districts and over 40% of schools meet the definition of ‘high-poverty’ under SB 555. Over 40% of Arkansas’ students attend these schools that often experience low performance and student growth.

We believe that the significant increase in the annual bonus for Board-certified teachers working in high-poverty schools could create important learning opportunities for both students and staff. The $10,000 annual bonus is nearly a 25% increase in average teacher pay for high-poverty districts. This large bonus may incentivize current teachers to achieve Board certification and perhaps develop further expertise in their craft. The large bonus may also motivate those who are already Board-certified to remain in high-poverty schools, providing quality leadership increasing stability in the staff. In addition, teachers who are relatively new to the profession may elect to work in these districts for the incentive, and over the 10-year period adding to the economic and cultural development of the surrounding community.

While we don’t imagine many current NBC teachers will make major geographic moves due to the differentiated bonuses, in the future, board-certified teachers may elect to make a small change to receive the larger bonus. Instead of teaching in non-high poverty schools, Board-certified teachers may opt to teach in a local high-poverty school and that could provide increased opportunities and greater educational equity for students.

We are excited to see policymakers using existing funds to leverage human resources in a way that may increase educational opportunities for our state’s most at-risk students. SB 555 has passed through both the full House and Senate.  The amended bill was re-referred to the Senate Education committee on 3/28 and is anticipated to be approved.


For more information about this, please read the policy brief

What is National Board Certification?


National Board Certification for teachers began over 25 years ago, and is modeled after the practice in the medical and legal fields, where Board certification identifies practitioners as having met an exceptional level of expertise. Arkansas’ teacher licensure system sets the basic requirements to teach, while completion of National Board Certification (NBC) is a voluntary professional certification process developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Proponents of National Board Certification for teachers cite research that indicates the students of NBC teachers show greater academic growth than other students, and that NBC teachers demonstrate higher quality teaching practices. It is not clear, however, if the process of becoming certified increases teacher effectiveness, or if more effective teachers are simply more likely to self-select to pursue certification.

  1. The part of this whole conversation that I do not understand is the ‘why’ in the ratio of 70/30% of teachers in non-poverty districts?! When I certified 8 years ago, I received grants that paid a huge part of my application/registration charges and the most intense training and support came through a Winthrop Rockefeller grant that was funded through the University of Monticello. There was a week’s training on writing the portfolios that was tremendously beneficial to me and several dozen other candidates. It seems to me that the opportunities for that grant funding was open to ALL teachers across the state, though I do live and teach in north Arkansas.

    The opportunities for legislative and state’s support can come through continuing to provide the easing of the financial burden when it comes to application and support groups. The National Board Certification status should be recognized (monetary bonuses) equally when achieved.

    • Thanks for your comment! We were also surprised to see that the majority of Board-certified teachers work in non-high-poverty schools and districts, but do not have information about the “WHY”. Perhaps teachers in higher-poverty districts aren’t as aware of NBCT because there are so few who have been certified? Or perhaps teachers in those districts don’t feel like they have the support they would need to complete the certification process? These are great questions and we hope to see more NBC teachers in high-poverty districts. The legislation still pays for application fees, and there may be additional options for support available for applicants like the grant your utilized. If readers have information about certification support please post!

  2. 100% of the students I work with have been identified as at-risk for not graduating. It does not matter that the district is not identified as a high poverty district. I teach in an ALE (Alternative Learning Environment). The bulk of my students struggle with issues of poverty. I do not understand how the differentiated bonus system can be considered equitable.

    • Thanks for your comment about ALEs, and we appreciate your perspective! The Arkansas Department of Education lists 19 ALEs- and 12 of them would qualify as ‘high-poverty’ schools, so under SB555 any NBC teachers would be eligible for the $10,000 bonus for working there. For teachers who work at ALEs that do not qualify, some of the home districts pay bonuses to NBCs using local funds. If your district does not award a bonus to NBC teachers, you could suggest it!

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