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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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