California’s K–12 public-school system is one of the worst in the country. It consistently ranks among the poorest-performing ten states, falling well below the national average.
The Golden State’s teacher shortage is one contributing factor to the state’s failing system. Enrollment in teacher-preparation programs dropped 40 percent between the 2010 and 2014 school years. Now, nearly one in three teachers are leaving their careers in the first seven years.
Some senators in the California state legislature believe that they have a solution to the state’s teacher shortage: to provide tax credits that can be applied to the costs incurred while attaining a teaching credential, and to exempt those who remain in the profession for five years or more from paying state income tax on any money earned from teaching.
Democratic senators Henry Stern and Cathleen Galgiani introduced Senate Bill 807, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017. If enacted, the bill would be effective until 2027, at which point it sunsets.
“Aspiring teachers in California,” the bill states, “often report the path for completing requirements for a preliminary credential, induction, and clearing a credential is uneven and costly.” The tax credit would furthermore remove these uneven costs, including the cost of “tuition for a master’s degree leading to a clear teaching credential.”
Providing tax credit for such programs may be attractive to those considering a teaching career in California. But exempting teachers from paying their state income tax is silly and costly. More than 300,000 teachers would benefit from the tax exemptions this year alone, and that number would likely rise over the next several years, costing the state over $600 million per year in lost revenues.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “the effect would be equivalent to a 4% to 6% salary increase” — and yet, the average salary for public-school teachers in California is $72,000 (the fourth highest average in the country), and one that is significantly higher than the state’s median household income of $61,000.
Indirectly increasing teacher salaries by an average of less than $4,000, while blowing a hole in the state’s budget, will not likely be the reason teachers choose to stay in their profession. This proposed solution fails to address the root of the problem: that California inadequately funds many of its schools.
Take, for example, the city of Oakland, where 70 percent of new teachers left the school district in their first five years, many of whom left because the school didn’t sufficiently fund teacher-retention programs such as hiring proper teaching mentors. In some districts that are underfunded, the dropout rate for students is actually lower than that of teachers.
California’s state legislature ought to prioritize school funding before raising the wages of many already well-paid teachers. Then, the teacher shortage might not be an issue at all.