Photo courtesy of SEAL
Tony Carriles is a dual language immersion teacher at Oak Grove School District in San Jose.

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The Legislative Analyst’s recent estimate of a $33 billion budget surplus for California’s TK-12 public schools is great news. But it takes more than money to keep our classrooms running — it takes people.

If policymakers fail to use this surplus of funds to attract and retain educators, to build up a profession that has been battered by Covid, we will lose the talented individuals we need to lead our schools and educate our kids.

Schools have been hemorrhaging staff since before the pandemic. In 2019, 4 out of 5 California school districts didn’t have enough teachers. In the first year of the pandemic, the number of California teachers choosing to retire increased by 26%. State data mirrors national trends. A November 2021 survey found that 48% of teachers nationwide had considered quitting within the last 30 days. Of that group, 34% were thinking about leaving the profession altogether.

State leaders need a concrete plan to bolster the teaching profession and to care for the teachers who care for California’s children. Fortunately, a group of teachers has developed one. The Teacher Care Package was created by a working group of teachers and leadership team members at KIPP SoCal Public Schools, a network of 23 schools in Southern California where I serve as CEO. The Teacher Care Package is a set of wraparound incentives to encourage talented individuals to pursue a career in teaching and ensure our schools retain hardworking, effective teachers.

By using the influx of funding to implement this package, state legislators and school district leaders can show educators — with actions rather than rhetoric — that California truly values them.

To address mental health challenges that many teachers have endured since the pandemic, the Teacher Care Package proposes a $3,000 wellness stipend. Some teachers might use the funds to buy gym memberships, others might invest in child care. After the first year, teachers would continue to receive $500 per year to invest in their wellness.

California already offers grants of up to $6,000, as well as $1,000 in non-repayable grants, to teachers who are purchasing homes. It’s a nice idea, but given the skyrocketing cost of housing, the money makes little difference. It’s a bit like telling someone if they buy a new car, you’ll pay for the registration. The Teacher Care Package calls for increasing this grant to $15,000, which will actually help teachers compete in California’s cutthroat housing market.

Taking this idea a step further, recognizing that public sector workers are being squeezed out of the real estate market, state officials should require housing developments in major metropolitan areas to reserve spots for these workers. Teachers, medical workers and mental health professionals should be able to buy homes in the communities where they provide invaluable services.

The state should offer teachers waivers for courses — on subjects that advance their professional growth — at a UC or Cal State. It should provide teachers with an annual $250 stipend for books for professional learning.

To reward educators for staying in the profession, the state should provide new teachers with a $3,000 signing bonus that is paid out over three years. To attract teachers to positions that are harder to fill — such as STEM and special education — California should provide a $15,000 signing bonus paid out over three years.

Finally, teachers simply need more money in their pockets, and there are several ways to do that. Right now teachers can deduct a maximum of $250 on their federal taxes. California should provide an added boost, enabling any public school teacher to receive a $1,000 deduction on their state taxes. It should also provide loan forgiveness, recognizing that many teachers spend years paying off the costs of their certification — all for the opportunity to work in our public classrooms.

These incentives are about more than financial assistance. At a time when educator morale is dangerously low, they are a declaration that California prizes its public school teachers and wants its most brilliant and driven people to work in its classrooms.

Implementing the Teacher Care Package could cost the state up to $10 billion per year. If that sounds like a lot of money, consider that California has already spent that much on high-speed rail. That project has been in development for 15 years and is expected to cost taxpayers over $100 billion – if it ever actually gets built.

I suspect most Californians would rather live in a state with public school teachers than one with a bullet train. But the reality is that we don’t have to choose. California can afford to reward teachers for their vital work. If we fail to do so, it won’t matter what kinds of brilliant educational policies and programs we create. Because we won’t have the people on the ground to implement them.

•••

Angella Martinez is CEO of KIPP SoCal Public Schools, a network of 23 charter public schools in Southern California. She has worked in public education for 21 years as a teacher, principal and administrator at Compton Unified and KIPP. 

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  1. Zaida Barr 5 months ago5 months ago

    I find it ironic that there is such a shortage of teachers and yet schools finds so easy to dispose of experienced credentialed teachers for reasons that they cannot even explain. Why is it that one cannot get a job after months and dozens of applications?

  2. Jim Hudson 5 months ago5 months ago

    As a former teacher of 11 years, I decided to leave the profession while I was at the top of my game. It's been 15 years now, and the reality is, teaching is way more rewarding, but not as lucrative. Teaching is a lifestyle choice, and some people should not choose teaching. I remember a CA Governor in the '90s saying something like, "Teachers should teach for 5 years and move on." The … Read More

    As a former teacher of 11 years, I decided to leave the profession while I was at the top of my game. It’s been 15 years now, and the reality is, teaching is way more rewarding, but not as lucrative.

    Teaching is a lifestyle choice, and some people should not choose teaching. I remember a CA Governor in the ’90s saying something like, “Teachers should teach for 5 years and move on.” The same should be said for politicians! The fact is, after 5 years of teaching, you finally get to a point of “OK, I got this”. But teaching has way more facets and challenges. You literally are the best person in a child’s life for 180 days.

    Teachers take on the role of parent, counselor, nurse, motivator, disciplinarian, and nurturer to name a few. It’s one profession that leads to all other professions for the people you teach. If you want people who are truly there for your child, you have to pay them!

    I appreciate Ms. Martinez’s article and applaud her. I also have had the amazing opportunity to work with the KIPP Foundation and several schools across the country for 18 months. I know that the Knowledge is Power Program is alive and well! KIPP does amazing things for our youth.

  3. A.P. 6 months ago6 months ago

    You know what I would love as a special education SDC teacher? I don't need a gym membership or a house - I need time. Everything related to case management, including IEP meetings are done on my own time as I am considered 100% instructional. I want comp time for all of this work. If I were given 60 hours a year (6 hours per child × 10) to use for … Read More

    You know what I would love as a special education SDC teacher? I don’t need a gym membership or a house – I need time. Everything related to case management, including IEP meetings are done on my own time as I am considered 100% instructional. I want comp time for all of this work. If I were given 60 hours a year (6 hours per child × 10) to use for testing, writing, scheduling, holding the meeting, and completing all the admin for the massive amount of paperwork that I do, my job would be so much better. I’m simply worn out with everything on my plate and no time but my own time to do it.

  4. Dr. Susan Ratliff 6 months ago6 months ago

    I agree we need to find ways to attract more teachers, but what about the ones that have paid their student debt, and are continuing to work? How about tax cuts for those teachers. All teachers new and seasoned should be given a bonus.

  5. Pascale 6 months ago6 months ago

    More financial incentives is nice but it doesn’t hit the spot. Our teachers need less kids in their classroom. They need administrators that are truly supportive.

  6. el 6 months ago6 months ago

    I like the idea of tuition waivers for teachers working on a master's degree etc. I want to highlight that funding for TK in particular is inadequate - for the very small class sizes required, the ADA funding doesn't really cover the cost, especially in cases where there is a class in between sizes in small schools. One time money is nicer than not having it, but it creates an odd situation where schools are … Read More

    I like the idea of tuition waivers for teachers working on a master’s degree etc.

    I want to highlight that funding for TK in particular is inadequate – for the very small class sizes required, the ADA funding doesn’t really cover the cost, especially in cases where there is a class in between sizes in small schools.

    One time money is nicer than not having it, but it creates an odd situation where schools are spending a lot of one-time money on nice to have things, or even training, but are perversely looking at this funding cliff coming and wondering if they’ll have to lay off staff in 2-3 years. The legislature needs to be sure the ongoing mandates are funded.

  7. Lori 6 months ago6 months ago

    How about pay them much much more. Pay for their masters and shrink the classroom size and get rid of computers outside of home research and homework. My kid sits on a computer all day – doesn’t even write script. Make teaching more appealing and wealth building and maybe you will attract them back.

  8. Liisa Blackwell 6 months ago6 months ago

    It's not just financial issues that cause teachers to leave the profession. I took a 20% pay cut to move into the private sector, and I'm more content than ever. I didn't leave because of the students or even my school--I love everyone on my former campus! But the burdens of public education were too much: Too many students, too many demands on us, too little time to actually be effective. Better compensation is important, … Read More

    It’s not just financial issues that cause teachers to leave the profession. I took a 20% pay cut to move into the private sector, and I’m more content than ever. I didn’t leave because of the students or even my school–I love everyone on my former campus! But the burdens of public education were too much: Too many students, too many demands on us, too little time to actually be effective. Better compensation is important, but money alone can’t prevent burnout.

  9. Lily Higman 6 months ago6 months ago

    I agree with the above but until we lower class sizes, none of the stresses the teachers are dealt with will be alleviated. Our schools need to have the correct amount of staffing at every level so the teachers do not have to be counselors, librarians, and other staff. Every school should be adequately funded with lower teacher/student ratios.

    Replies

    • Jay 6 months ago6 months ago

      I could not agree more about class size ratios. As I have mentioned previously, classroom caps must be approved, otherwise averages will always be manipulated.

  10. Jay 6 months ago6 months ago

    If the state legislature is serious about retaining teachers, then any cost of living adjustment budgeted by the legislature and governor will be required to increase teacher salaries. Just because money is provided from the state does not guarantee the salaries will increase by the same amount. If COLA is 7%, then salary schedules should automatically adjust by 7%.

  11. Marisa Flynn 6 months ago6 months ago

    When are we going to talk about awful student behavior driving teachers away?!