How far will California legislators go to attract teachers?
A bipartisan group of Sacramento legislators are polishing up a bushel of apples, with bills intended to increase the number of teachers in California’s schools — and keep them from fleeing the state, or the profession entirely, a few years in.
“If there’s not a whole lot of support and they’re working long hours for low money, they leave the field,” said Wendy Murawski, the executive director and Eisner Endowed Chair of Cal State Northridge’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “Everybody comes in and wants to give 110 percent, but you can’t do that long term.”
The bills introduced this year include ones that give teachers tax credits, exempt them from state income taxes, prevent districts from charging new teachers fees, give financial incentives for teaching in under-served communities and provide grants for them to teach certain hard-to-fill subjects.
TAX CREDITS FOR TEACHERS
State Sens. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, and Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, went big with Senate Bill 807, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act.
“Teachers, after their fifth year of teaching, one in every three is leaving their job in California. It’s a precipitous drop,” said Stern, who briefly worked as a teacher himself. “Those are very real numbers and have tangible impacts in the classroom.”
During the Great Recession, many younger teachers were laid off — dissuading their younger siblings from going into the field themselves — and now the state is looking at older teachers retiring in large numbers in coming years.
At least part of the answer, according to Stern, is better pay, which the Legislature can impact indirectly, through California’s income tax. SB 807 would give teachers a tax credit equal to the costs required for them to earn their teaching credential and would exempt any income earned as a teacher from state income tax.
“It’s going to take something really visionary to lift teacher pay (and attract) a new generation of teachers,” Stern said. “So let’s go big.”
But he acknowledges that it won’t be cheap.
“We’re talking hundreds of millions here, we’re talking over half a billion dollars here,” Stern said.
But, he said, the impact of the credit would make the expense worth it.
“If we’re giving out a film tax credit — which I’m a big proponent of — the same principles apply here,” Stern said. “This is the most valuable thing. Everything starts with a teacher.”
That said it may not end up being available for all teachers: Stern is open to “right-sizing” the credit and having it only affect teachers in districts facing chronic shortages, rather than having it apply across the board.
The bill will likely face opposition from Gov. Jerry Brown, who is concerned about the state taking on new expenditures while California faces an estimated $1.6 billion budget deficit. If it passes, though, California will be the first state in the nation to exempt teachers from state income taxes.
“The governor’s got a lot on his plate right now, and I’m with him 100 percent in paying down the wall of debt,” Stern said. “But this is an urgent crisis and I think it really deserves a spot at the front of the conversation.”
GRANTS FOR TOUGH-TO-FILL SUBJECTS
California’s teacher shortage isn’t evenly distributed. According to a study released in February by the Learning Policy Institute, the number of math and science teachers going into the field with full How far will California legislators go to attract teachers?: