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California eyes teacher pay boosts to keep them in state

April 3, 2017

Drs. Wendy Murawski, Vanessa Goodwin, and Mira Pak were recently featured in an article on efforts 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.”

Dr. Vanessa Goodwin teaches students in the Special Education Program at Cal State Northridge, Thursday, March 30, 2017. Photo by Hans Gutknetcht from Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
Dr. Vanessa Goodwin teaches students in the Special Education Program at Cal State Northridge, Thursday, March 30, 2017. Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Staff Photographer, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Full article, including text and images, from Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

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.


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.”


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 credentials shrank by about a third between 2012 and 2016.

Assembly Bill 169, introduced by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, is an attempt to get teachers to tackle hard-to-fill subject areas.

“What California is facing is a critical shortage in key subject areas, and we need to find more teachers into the core subject pipeline, ” O’Donnell said. “We don’t have a big pool to draw on in the future.”

The Golden State Teacher Grant Program would provide up to $20,000 in grants to students who commit to working in a high-need field — bilingual education or special education, as well as science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) — for four years after receiving their teaching credential.

O’Donnell, a former high school civics teacher, said there has been a 70 percent drop in enrollment for programs to train the next generation of California teachers.

“As more teachers retire, the demand for K-12 teachers in California is coming at a time when we have a 12-year low,” he said.

The grant program is similar to programs in other states and to the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship, which awarded $20,000 grants to 1,200 recipients.

Despite Brown’s concerns about the budget deficit, O’Donnell is optimistic about his bill’s prospects.

“There will be a finite number of dollars, probably $20 million total. We’ll be working with the governor on this,” he said. “An investment in a teacher is an investment in California’s future. It’s pay now, or pay later.”

In other words, it’s cheaper to pay the $20 million for this program than to pay for the lost revenue in the future.

“When students don’t achieve, California pays forever,” O’Donnell said.


Once a new teacher earns a credential, they’re not done shelling out for the process to become a new teacher. California law currently allows districts to charge new teachers up to $3,500 for induction programs that provide training, mentoring and support.

“The induction fees, those are something I always hear students complain about, even for working professionals who are moving into teaching as a second career,” Murawski said.

AB 410, introduced by Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, would put a halt to that practice. (Some counties, like Riverside County, do not charge teachers for these programs.)

“My mother’s actually been a teacher for almost 30 years now,” Cervantes said. “California is facing a severe teacher shortage, and just looking at my mother who will be retiring in the next five years or so, what are we doing to replace them?”

Public school districts in the state need to hire an additional 60,000 to 135,000 teachers just to meet current demand, she said.

This isn’t the first attempt to solve this problem: Like O’Donnell’s bill, Cervantes’ bill is a revival of a previous program that covered the costs for induction programs.

“In 2009, the state did provide, I believe, $4,000 for these programs,” she said. “But due to the Great Recession, those monies went away.”

And other funds set aside for the purpose have been diverted to other programs.

“An ongoing funding source needs to be identified, along with the governor’s office,” Cervantes said.


Some districts or schools have trouble getting and keeping teachers of any subject.

AB 234 would bring back the Assumption Program of Loan for Education (APLE) program, which would provide $5 million in student loan funds for would-be teachers if they commit to working in “subject areas where a critical teacher shortage has been identified, or designated schools that meet criteria established by the Superintendent of Public Instruction,” according to the program’s description.

AB 234 was sponsored by Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators.

“California Republicans have seen an opportunity in issues that have been left alone by the majority party and the problems have been exacerbated,” Steinorth said. “And one of the problems facing California is the teacher shortage.”

His hope is that the program will “incentivize students to become teachers” and “recruit them into areas that are under-served.”

Steinorth said this expense isn’t one California can afford to not make, even with the state facing a billion-dollar deficit.

“I think this program is something that California cannot afford to not to have,” he said. “The teacher shortage is not a crisis we can ignore. We have to put in investments at the right time. This is a strong message to California: We care about families, we care about your students, and we care about your success.”


And then there’s arguably even a bigger problem: California’s housing crisis. Although California teacher salaries can eventually — with a lot of years and a masters degree or even a Ph.D. — get above $90,000 in some districts, for new teachers especially, the high cost of finding a place to sleep at night is a real deterrent.

AB 45, sponsored by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, would provide $100 million for grants to school districts for teacher rental housing.

Also making its way through the legislature is AB 1157, sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo. The bill would encourage districts to turn surplus property into school district employee housing.

“Especially in the areas like LA, San Francisco and San Diego, housing assistance is so valuable,” Murawski said. “We have people not taking a job because of where it is.”

O’Donnell also sponsored AB 170, which would allow teachers to be able to get a teaching certification with a bachelor’s degree in education, rather than in a specific subject area.

As for the intended beneficiaries of all this legislation, the teachers themselves are taking a wait and see attitude about them apples.

“We obviously support efforts to (improve teachers’ jobs) and believe making teaching more attractive both financially and professionally are very important, especially as we face a looming teacher shortage,” Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, wrote in an email. “Many teachers can’t afford to live anywhere near the communities where they teach, are saddled with student debt and issues like those become deterrents to new people entering the profession. So we support efforts to try and provide some relief on those issues, and to ensure that teachers are treated as the professionals they are. Those efforts can be legislation, like some of the bills (above), or at the local level with districts paying competitive salaries and seeing teachers as instructional experts and not just as employees.”

EdSource reporter Fermin Leal contributed to this report.