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California Teachers Might Soon Get a Surprise on Their Taxes


California’s growing teacher shortage is reaching crisis levels. Attracting new teachers is becoming increasingly difficult as the profession has failed to remain competitive with rising living costs, and older teachers are retiring in droves. However, California has a fairly radical new solution to both attract new teachers and increase retention: Two California state senators, Democrats Henry Stern of Los Angeles and Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton, have co-authored a California bill, SB 807, that offers K-12 teachers financial incentive to stay in the profession longer. To encourage them to continue teaching beyond the traditional burnout period of five years, California teachers would be exempt from paying state income tax, and receive reimbursement for any additional state-mandated training. That exemption would go up even higher after six years, and would grandfather in teachers who have already been working in the field.   

The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act is the first of its kind in California and in the country. This would be the first time a state has considered eliminating income tax for an entire profession. And while there are critics who argue that it singles out one profession to the exclusion of others, teaching is one of the professions in which employees do not receive overtime pay for the many additional hours they put in, where there is not a great deal of financial upward mobility, and where schools often face budget cuts that require them to work harder for the same pay.

“The teaching profession is critical to California’s economic success and impacts every vocation and profession in the state,” Stern said in a statement. “SB 807 addresses the immediate teacher shortage and sends a loud and clear message across the state and nation: California values teachers.”

Just how bad is this shortage? According to Bill Lucia, President and CEO of EdVoice, a non-profit education advocacy group that is supporting the bill, “We’re looking at what’s going on in teacher labor market in California and have some seen some serious evidence of a disconnect,” he tells Second Nexus. For comparison, he gives two other fields’ rate of attrition: Within the first five years of employment for DMV employees, only approximately 5 percent of workers leave the field. In first responder fields, such as EMTs or firefighters, approximately 15 to 18 percent leave within five years. “If you look at teachers, over one-third leave in the first five years.”

That translates to over 6,000 classrooms, and as many as 155,000 kids, where the “teachers” are just adults with an emergency credential who have passed a fingerprint background check, Lucia says. Because the school districts are desperate to fill these gaps, these temporary teachers are not trained or skilled in a professional capacity and many do not go on to become formally trained as teachers within five years. “That number has gone up 98% in just two years. We’re feeling the baby boomers leaving the profession.”

Senator Cathleen Gagliani visits a preschool. (Credit: Source.)

Further evidence comes from a Learning Policy Institute survey of 211 California school districts, which found that 75 percent of responders reported a shortage of qualified teachers for the 2016-17 school year. Moreover, 80 percent expressed feeling this shortage had gotten worse since 2014, particularly for subjects such as special education, math, science and bilingual teachers. And of course, the hardest hit are the lowest income students. 83% of districts serving the largest concentrations of low-income students reported shortages, compared to 55% of districts with the fewest. “Schools most affected are high populations of high poverty kids and minorities,” Lucia says.

The new bill, should it pass, would roughly equal a 3.4 percent annual salary increase for newer teachers. To lay this out, EdVoice projects that a teacher earning approximately $44,746, would be able to write off up to $1,265 per year, as well as writing off the costs of continuing education or a master’s degree training required by most school districts within the first five years of a teacher’s employment. Career teachers—anyone who has been in the field over six years—would receive closer to the equivalent of a 4 to 6 percent salary increase, closer to $2483 annually.

The annual cost to the state would be approximately $617.5 million. However, $9 million of that would help offset the cost of additional teacher training required by the state, and $608.5 million would provide the tax exemption for classroom teaching income.

For Teagen Leonhart, a California high school teacher in the San Rafael City School District, this money would make a significant difference. Specifically, it would allow her to pay off the student loans she took out to become a teacher 13 years ago. “Only recently have I made enough money to even touch the principal of more than $80,000,” she tells Second Nexus. “I live in the most expensive area in the country where the cost of living is astronomical, and have one of the lowest paying, highly skilled jobs working for the state to better the state.”

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  • Jordan Rosenfeld is author of 7 books and has published in: The Atlantic, the Daily Beast, the New York Times, Pacific Standard, Quartz, Salon, the Washington Post and many more. Her writing can be found on www.jordanrosenfeld.net, and you can follow her on Twitter @JordanRosenfeld.

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