The fee to become a credentialed teacher would increase 27 percent under budget recommendations by Gov. Jerry Brown and the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
The state Commission on Teacher Credentialing faces a $5 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. Credential applications and tests – the commission's primary source of revenue – have fallen substantially in recent years. California credentialed 6.5 percent fewer new teachers in 2010-11 than it did a year prior. The number of teaching credentials issued since since 2004-05 has shrunk by one-third.
For first-time credentials, the fee would increase from $27.50 to $35, and for renewals from $55 to $70, according to recommendations released last week by the legislative analyst. The higher fees would generate an estimated $2.7 million – $300,000 less than projected by the governor in January.
A higher credential fee is reasonable because the rate has not increased since 1999, the legislative analyst said. Had the 1998 fee level increased annually for inflation, it would be $97 today.
Whatever the credential fee is, existing and prospective teachers will pay it, said Brent Smiley, a middle school social studies teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"If I don't pay it, I don't have a job, so therefore, I pay it," said Smiley, who has taught for 23 years. "No matter what they charge, we have to pay it because we don't have an option."
The California Teachers Association said it supports increasing credentialing fees because the commission's work is important, said association spokeswoman Dina Martin.
In addition to credentialing teachers, the commission accredits teacher preparation programs and monitors teacher misconduct. In March, the commission said its tight budget meant it must immediately suspend most activities and programs not related to misconduct reviews and credential processing.
As proposed, the remainder of the commission's budget shortfall would be made up by raising test fees, eliminating 17 positions and transferring money from the agency's test development and administration account to its teacher credentialing fund.
Commission spokeswoman Anne Padilla said the legislative analyst's recommendations were "intriguing."
"We look forward to working with the LAO, the Department of Finance and the legislative budget committees throughout the budget process to restore fiscal stability to the commission for its important work," she said.
Even if the commission adopted all the governor's recommendations, it "likely will remain in a precarious fiscal position in 2012-13 and 2013-14," the legislative analyst said.
The legislative analyst suggested the commission consider other revenue options, including instituting fees for accreditation services. The 261 teacher preparation programs in the state do not currently pay any fee for the commission's accreditation services, the legislative analyst said.