Many of the top-notch Hawaii teachers who work with the state’s most struggling students will no longer get the annual bonuses they have long received as a perk for helping turn around underperforming schools.

That’s because a bill that would’ve renewed the incentive program died this past legislative session as a result of a procedural mix-up that derailed about a dozen education-related measures at the last minute. House Bill 2597 sailed through its hearings and was largely seen as a shoo-in, but lawmakers in charge of the state budget failed to approve it in their final deliberations.

“It was a missed opportunity,” said Hawaii Teachers Association Vice President Joan Lewis, who’s also a teacher at Kapolei High School. “We have teachers who’ve dedicated themselves to helping their schools do better, schools that are the most vulnerable and could most benefit from these teachers … that extra support is valuable.”

Corey Rosenlee

Corey Rosenlee, shown in August 2013, is a national board-certified teacher at Campbell High School.

Alia Wong/Civil Beat

The Department of Education is frustrated with the change, too. Amy Kunz, the DOE’s acting senior assistant superintendent, wrote in a May 13 letter to board-certified teachers that the department is “extremely disappointed with the outcome.”

Kunz and Lewis said they intend to push hard for the program’s renewal in the next legislative session.

Under the incentive program, teachers with certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards  who were working in low-performing schools received the $5,000 bonus each year on top of another annual $5,000 stipend that’s given to all board-certified teachers. (The latter remains in effect.)

National board certification is seen across the country as the most prestigious credential a teacher can have. The process is expensive and rigorous and can take several years to complete; many teachers attempt numerous times before achieving certification.

Research shows that national board-certified teachers have a significant impact on student achievement and that their students outperform their peers. A 2012 Harvard University study found that students in the Los Angeles Unified School District who had board-certified teachers made gains equivalent to an extra two months of math instruction and one month in English language arts.

Just 2 percent of the state’s 13,500 or so public school teachers are board-certified, but it’s unclear exactly how many of them work in struggling schools. Ultimately, about 30 teachers will lose the extra $5,000 payment because of this year’s change, according to Tracey Idica, a board-certified teacher who helps coordinate the national certification program in Hawaii.

The idea behind the additional bonus was to “reward our best teachers and incentivize them to teach in parts of the state that need them most, the kids that need them most,” said Rep. Takashi Ohno, vice chairman of the Education Committee. Ohno, who worked as an elementary schoolteacher before he took office, introduced House Bill 2597 with the help of 25 other representatives.

“The hope is that a national board-certified teacher will do everything in his or her power to help our kids achieve,” Idica said.

HB 2597 would’ve updated the incentive program to better align it with the state’s new system for gauging school performance and progress: Strive HI, which has replaced the federal No Child Left Behind program.

In its original version, the program initiated nearly a decade ago gave the extra bonuses to teachers working in schools that were failing by No Child Left Behind standards. No Child Left Behind, which has been phased out of Hawaii, looked at schools’ test scores to determine whether or not they met or failed to meet expectations. More than a third of the state’s 255 DOE schools failed to meet expectations in the 2012-13 school year, the most recent year for which such data is available.

HB 2597 would’ve changed the definition of a struggling school to one that falls in one of the lowest three tiers on the five-tier Strive HI school ranking system. It would’ve also guaranteed extra $5,000 bonuses to teachers who work in schools that have either high teacher turnover rates or are considered hard to fill by the DOE.

Board-certified teachers in hard-to-staff schools will still be eligible for the additional $5,000 bonus.

While the program’s cancellation is disappointing many teachers, advocates are confident that the state’s struggling schools will be able to retain their top educators.

“They’re not in the job to get rich,” Ohno said. “A lot of them teach in these schools because they form lasting relationships with the communities, because they see they’re making a difference there.”

Still, the HSTA’s Lewis said the change will be demoralizing for teachers.

“Those teachers made a commitment based on a commitment that was made to them,” she said. “Dollars out of the pocket is never something we take lightly.”

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