Legislators in California recently introduced a bill that would offer educators major tax breaks in an effort to keep them in the classroom and combat the state’s growing teacher shortage.
The measure quickly drew fire from taxpayer advocates who criticized it as politically inspired favoritism.
Democratic senators Henry Stern of Los Angeles and Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton earlier this month introduced Senate Bill 807, which would exempt teachers from paying the state income tax – which would be the equivalent of a 4 percent to 6 percent salary increase – after five years in the classroom.
California's state income tax rate ranges from 1 percent to 12.3 percent, depending on taxable income. For example, taxable income between $40,774 and $51,530 draws a 8 percent tax rate while taxable income between $51,531 and $263,222 draws a 9.3 percent tax rate.
Another enticement in the bill would give new teachers tax credits for the money they spent to earn full teaching credentials. These credits would cover such costs as college tuition and certification tests, and these expenses could be entirely recouped entirely over five years.
“Teachers are the original job creators. The teaching profession is critical to California’s economic success and impacts every vocation and profession in the state,” Stern said in a press release. “SB 807 addresses the immediate teacher shortage and sends a loud and clear message across the state and nation: California values teachers. We will help train you and we want you to stay in the classroom.”
Stern – a former teacher – said one-third of all California teachers quit before their fifth year because of the financial hardships placed on them due to low pay and the state’s high cost of living.
"You're not going to be able to get paid $50,000 a year and go live in the Bay Area, go teach at the local school.... we think it's a pretty creative tool, we'll see how the fiscal conservatives in this house want to approach this,” Stern told Fox 40.
The median household income in San Francisco is over $88,000 and more than $61,000 statewide. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area is just shy of $3,500 a month.
Fiscally conservative groups, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, criticized the bill. Jazz Shaw, writing on the group's website, said that for lawmakers to pick certain groups to get privileged treatment is a slippery slope.
"If you take an entire class of people based on their occupation and say that they are somehow 'more deserving' than everyone else and should be exempted from paying state income taxes, what other groups might qualify? It’s not hard to imagine quite a few of these 'deserving' professions being rather quick to have their hands out," he wrote.
The bill is expected to enter committee review by the end of the month and has so far faced no opposition from lawmakers in either party. It is unclear, however, what the estimated loss in tax revenue to the state would be if the measure is approved.
“It’s time California leads the nation and sends a clear message to all current and future teachers: You are valued and California will reward your commitment to California’s kids and future,” Bill Lucia, president of the Sacramento-based lobbying and research organization EdVoice, told the Los Angeles Times.
Currently 75 percent of all California school districts face a teacher shortage, and researchers say that one-third of all teachers in the state are older than 50. The problem is compounded by the fact that the turnover rate among teachers remains high and that less people are entering the profession, according to data compiled by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
In the 2014-15 school year, enrollments in teacher preparation programs dropped to 20,881 — down 40 percent from 2010-11 and 73 percent from 2001-02.
The California Teacher Association has so far not taken a stance on SB 807, but agrees that the shortage of educators in the state is a serious problem.