No taxes for teachers: California tries to hold on to good educators

The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act is a proposal that would incentivize new teachers with tax breaks, and keep veteran teachers in the system by eliminating their income tax entirely.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
First grade students at Rocketship SI Se Puede elementary school in San Jose, Calif., participate in class.

A new bill proposed in the California State Senate would completely eliminate income tax for teachers who have been in the profession for six years. Senate Bill 807, also known as the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, is an attempt to provide incentives for teachers to stay in the profession in a state troubled by a shortage of educators.

In many parts of the United States, teachers continue to face low pay and high burnout rates despite the importance of the profession. The California bill would be the first of its kind in both the state and the country to attempt to incentivize veteran teachers in this way. But while most agree that addressing the problem is important, the idea of using the untested strategy has raised questions as to whether such an expensive program would be effective in addressing the larger issues in the teaching industry.

There are a number of reasons for the teacher shortage in California and the rest of the US, says David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy in Baltimore.

"There is a particular shortage of teachers for children with special needs and for those who speak English as a second language," Dr. Steiner tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. "The area shortages have multiple causes, but are especially acute in places like San Francisco where the cost of housing is prohibitive for teachers on their salaries."

In California, high demand and low supply of teachers has resulted in the hiring of many under-qualified teachers and substitutes. Often, current teachers are asked to take on classes outside their fields of expertise.

"There are [also] significant concerns about the health and retirement benefits that are being cut from teacher contracts," John Craven, a professor of education at the Graduate School of Education at Fordham University in New York, tells the Monitor via email. "In some states and localities, the employer contributions to retirement packages are negligible. So teachers seeking to contribute to their own retirement packages face an even greater budgetary constraints (as they relate to low salaries). This is particularly true of new teachers."

All of these problems contribute to the reluctance of potential teachers to commit to the field of education, especially in disadvantaged communities, he adds.

The California bill would attempt to rectify the issue by allowing first-time teachers to receive a tax credit amounting to about a 3.4 percent salary increase. Educators that have been teaching for six years or more, however, would see all income tax disappear completely, bumping up their salaries between 4 and 6 percent for the next 10 years.

All those tax breaks add up to about $617.5 million annually for the state, not an insignificant figure. But by investing in the new system, lawmakers believe that the program would lower the high turnover rate among teachers and economically benefit the state in the long run.

"Teachers are the original job creators," said Democratic state Sen. Henry Stern, who introduced the bill along with fellow Democratic Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, in a statement. "The teaching profession is critical to California’s economic success and impacts every vocation and profession in the state."

Many new teachers in the US burn out quickly, with attrition rates of nearly 8 percent over the past 10 years, according to the Learning Policy Institute. Retirements only account for less than a third of teachers who leave every year. The institute estimates that if attrition rates were brought down to 3 or 4 percent nationally, the US could eliminate teacher shortages altogether.

"This is a big and bold idea to deal with the teacher shortage," Bill Lucia, president of EdVoice, said in a statement. "It is not a one-time money spending bill, it's a way to look at the big issue, and the legislature is reacting positively to it."

While the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act's approach is a unique solution to the teacher shortage, it is only one of many approaches put forward over the past few years, says Steiner of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy.

"A number of districts have established bonuses for effective teachers (in Washington, D.C., it's $25,000) and some states and/or districts have created career ladders where teachers may earn more for taking on roles such as mentors or curriculum experts," says Steiner. "Some states and/or districts have bonuses for teachers willing to teach in high-needs subjects and/or high-needs schools, and some districts subsidize housing costs."

Such programs are a start to give teachers what they need in order to teach students more effectively. But in order for truly significant reforms to happen, the public's perspective on teaching needs to change, say Gina Anderson and Rebecca Fredrickson of the Department of Teacher Education at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas.

"A cultural paradigm shift is needed in order to change the perception of teaching as a viable career," they tell the Monitor in an email. "Rather than perpetuating the perspective that teachers are martyrs, teachers need to be portrayed as leaders and innovators."

"The public needs to be informed about the complexities of schools, the diverse makeup and needs of students, and the art and science behind effective teaching," they add.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to No taxes for teachers: California tries to hold on to good educators
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today