MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Patrick Kelly considered leaving the classroom in 2009. His family just welcomed a baby, and he wasn’t sure how the finances could still work.

A stipend from completing an extensive teaching training program, however, allowed him to stay.

“If it were not for the additional stipend that I was awarded with National Board, I likely would have left the classroom about the same time I was applying to receive National Board Certification,” he said.

Kelly, a National Board Certified Teacher and the director of governmental affairs with the Palmetto State Teachers Association, is grateful that more teachers will get that opportunity again.

Why National Board Certified Teachers?

South Carolina has historically been one of the top states for its number of National Board Certified Teachers. The state had 9,277 National Board Certified Teachers, as of February information from the National Board for Traditional Teaching Standards. It ranks fourth on the list, behind North Carolina, at 23,090, Florida, at 13,559, and Washington, at 11,645. At the bottom of the list is New Hampshire, with 35.

Kelly said South Carolina is one of the most active states for National Board Certified Teachers. South Carolina, along with about half of the states in the nation, provides financial incentives for teachers to pursue the certification.

“Conversations for us about National Board stipends and National Board Certification are ongoing and constant with members of the Assembly because we believe it is a driver for retention and student achievement,” Kelly said. 

Achieving the voluntary certification is a time-intensive process that can take between one to three years and includes elements such as tests, portfolios, videotaping lessons, and reflecting on their teaching.

Richard Klein, the director of communications for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, estimates at least 5,600 South Carolina teachers have licenses that haven’t expired.

He points to research done in Mississippi, which revealed that kindergarten students taught by a National Board Certified Teacher were 31% more likely to have a proficient score on their assessment, and third-graders were 11% more likely to be proficient in math and reading.

Klein said that other research has had similar results.

That impact is even greater, he said, for educators in high-need classrooms. 

Klein said one of the top reasons teachers pursue the certification is because of states that offer a pay stipend for those who achieve it. But it’s not the only reason.

“A lot of teachers, like professionals in every field, want to improve their skills and their abilities,” he said. “They do it because it’s a challenge and they believe it is going to make them more effective.”

Hundreds of comments come pouring in after a teacher asks on social media if they should pursue the process. He said the common answer is typically along the lines of, “I did it because of the money, but it was the best professional experience I ever had.”

National Board Certified Teachers tend to become more involved in their schools, according to data from the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement, or CERRA. 

A March 2010 report showed that out of the certified teachers who responded, at least half had become more involved at their schools, and 87% reported they’d provided assistance to other teachers more often than before.

“While many of these teachers were involved in their schools before becoming certified, they maintain a notably stronger commitment to leadership after going through the process,” the report reads. 

A tool for retention

During the 2018-19 academic year, 9% of South Carolina teachers left the profession, while only 3.6% of National Board Certified Teachers did, according to a spring 2020 report from CERRA. 

That gap in retention has been consistent over the last several years. 

However, that could have changed. 

Candidates who applied for the certification before July 2010 were eligible to receive an annual salary supplement of $7,500 a year for their certification’s 10-year cycle, with one opportunity to renew it and continue to receive the stipend. 

Teachers who applied after that date were eligible to receive $5,000 a year for the 10 years, with no chance to receive the bonus after they renewed. After July 1, 2018, there was no supplement offered.

“Some teachers have made it very clear that if their National Board stipend is taken away, they will be forced to seek an administrative position in education that maintains their current salary level or leave the teaching profession altogether,” a warning in a 2010 CERRA report reads. “Either way, accomplished teachers will be moving out of the classrooms.”

Klein said the loss of the incentive led to teachers not opting to renew their certifications. There were only 74 teachers in South Carolina who received certification in 2020, a drop of about 20 a year from a few years prior. 

The incentive returned this summer to applause from educators, who are now eligible for $5,000 a year for the length of their certification. 

“We are really excited about that because the data shows, and we believe strongly, that having a greater number of Board Certified Teachers in the state will have an impact on student learning and continue to enable South Carolina to be a leader nationwide,” Klein said.  

South Carolina Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry County, was part of the charge to bring the stipend back.

Hembree said funding for programs like the stipend often have a “sunset date” where it will automatically expire and be removed from the state budget. He heard from teacher organizations, which urged him to restart the stipend.

“They truly are some of the strongest teachers we have in our K-12 system, the teachers who are National Board Certified,” Hembree said.

He said it shows that teachers want to improve their skills, and will help raise the number of high-quality educators in the state. The General Assembly, he said, agreed that the data supported it as an effective tool for teacher retention.

“This might be the nudge they need to keep them in the classroom,” Hembree said. “I hope it is.”

Craig King, the director of leadership for the Palmetto State Teachers Association, renewed his certificate in 2019 knowing that he wouldn’t be eligible for any type of supplement at the time.

He originally pursued it because another teacher recommended it. He calls it the most beneficial piece of professional development he’s ever done, and that it made him more focused on what his students need. 

“The process is not a box you check, at all,” King said. 

He’s already fielding calls from teachers who are looking to pursue the certification or renew it since the stipend was reintroduced. 

“It’s a complete gamechanger,” he said. 

He’s optimistic it’ll mean that even more teachers will get certified in the state, which he said has districts that have more National Board Certified Teachers than some entire states do. 

About 11.9% of South Carolina teachers have achieved certification, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Education. Richland School District Two had the highest percentage of them, at 26.2%. Four school districts had none.

Klein said the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards plans to start raising awareness to educators across the state about the return of the stipend. He also wants parents to encourage it, stating that more than half of the certified teachers are in high-need schools.

“So it is even more powerful to get these high-quality teachers into classrooms where the kids need it the most,” he said. 

Kelly watched another teacher reluctantly leave the profession last summer. He said the bonus is one of the only ways available that allow teachers to stay.

“He could not financially make ends meet,” Kelly said.

Use the database below to search for the amount of National Board Certified Teachers by South Carolina school district.