Education

Taxpayers could pay to attract teachers. But is California really running out of them?

In August 2016, new teacher Corina Lacy, center, sits among other new teachers as they receive training during a weekend program for Fresno Unified School District teachers.
In August 2016, new teacher Corina Lacy, center, sits among other new teachers as they receive training during a weekend program for Fresno Unified School District teachers. Fresno Bee file

Should taxpayers underwrite special benefits to attract new teachers, such as affordable housing, expanded maternity leave and tax breaks?

California lawmakers have put forward a raft of proposals offering extra perks for teachers this session, prompted by what supporters say is an urgent need to do more to encourage people to get into the profession or stay there.

“Due to the extreme shortage of teachers in the state, many school districts must seek opportunities to attract qualified teachers,” Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, said of his bill meant to increase the supply of affordable housing for teachers.

Available data, though, doesn’t back up such dire assessments of the state’s overall teacher supply.

Data shows that, as state finances have improved, so have the number of teachers in public schools.

California had 332,640 teachers as it climbed out of recession during the 2010 school year. By 2015-16, the state had 352,000 teachers in 2015-16.

The number of public school students, meanwhile, has barely changed from several years ago, with enrollment of 6.22 million in 2010-11 to 6.23 million in 2016-17.

California, meanwhile, lacks a database to track teachers and identify looming workforce challenges. Lawmakers authorized such a system in 2006, and the state secured $6 million in federal funding. Gov. Jerry Brown, though, canceled the project in 2011-12 to “avoid the development of a costly technology program that is not critical,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote.

In an extensive look at the state’s teacher workforce needs, the analyst questioned claims of teacher shortages. In reality, it said, the teacher supply picture is complicated.

It’s true that districts wanted to hire more teachers in recent years than the number of new teachers credentialed. But the analyst’s office said teachers also come from out of state or they re-enter the profession, and that the teacher employment market tends to correct itself over time.

Yet advocates of the bills cite national reports of a coming crisis in teacher availability and note that a third of the teachers in California were over age 50 as of the 2015-16 school year.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing doesn’t have the definitive answer.

In its latest teacher supply report to the Legislature, the commission cautions readers that “no inference may be made regarding the shortage or surplus of teachers” because the state lacks such information as the number of credentialed teachers currently serving in schools and how many newly credentialed teachers are available to fill school vacancies.

Experts broadly agree, though, that specific subject areas and parts of the state have long struggled with teacher supply. Almost every year since 1990-91, the California Department of Education has reported a lack of special education, math and science teachers, the analyst’s office said. Teacher turnover, moreover, is a big problem in inner-city schools and those where more students live in poverty.

State officials have put forward a variety of proposals in recent years meant to step up teacher recruitment.

The current state budget, for example, includes $20 million in one-time money to help non-teaching, classified school employees get their teaching credentials. It also included $5 million to set up a California Center on Teaching Careers at the Tulare County Office of Education.

Individual lawmakers have put forward several bills this session meant to increase the supply of teachers or keep existing ones in the profession:

▪ Assembly Bill 169 creates the Governor’s Teaching Fellowship Program, offering $20,000 grants to would-be teachers who commit to working in math, science, bilingual education or other high-need fields.

▪ AB 410 prohibits school districts and other employers from charging rookie teachers a fee for participating in a teacher training program. The bill’s union sponsor, the California Federation of Teachers, contends that the fees cause some new teachers to quit.

▪ AB 568 requires school districts, charter schools and community colleges to provide six weeks of paid leave for teachers for pregnancy and childbirth.

▪ AB 586 allows qualified teachers to deduct enrollment fees for second-tier credential programs.

▪ AB 1217 creates the California Teacher Corps Program and offers $60 million to districts to create teacher residency programs.

▪ AB 1182 offers down-payment assistance to teachers in counties with high housing costs.

▪ SB 436 creates a new program to recruit and retain science and math teachers.

▪ SB 533 allows a governor to declare an “urgent state of need” in a school district, allowing the district to hire teachers without a credential or permit.

▪ SB 807 grants a tax credit for new teachers and reduces the taxable income for teachers with six-to-10 years of teaching service.

The legislation has a mix of supporters and critics.

EdVoice, an influential advocacy group that says flatly on its website that “the California public school system is broken,” backed the “urgent state of need” bill.

The measure’s opponents included the influential California Teachers Association, the union that represents more than 325,000 teachers. CTA supports the pregnancy leave measure, but opposes several of the others. The union warned that the tax breaks in SB 807 would reduce the state revenue that helps pay for schools.

“CTA believes a special tax benefit targeted only to classroom teachers, despite the worthy motivation behind it, would not only undermine funding for public education but would irrevocably harm the fabric of our school communities,” a union lobbyist wrote last month.

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