California May Eliminate Income Tax for Teachers

California is facing such a drastic teacher shortage that two legislators have introduced a proposal to eliminate the state income tax for teachers, in hope of drawing new teachers to the state and retaining those who have been teaching for a number of years.

California is facing a drastic teacher shortage. According to a survey of 211 school districts in that state, 75 percent reported having a shortage of qualified teachers for the 2016-17 school year. Eighty percent said the shortages have gotten worse since the 2013-14 school year, and is especially notable in special education, math, science, and bilingual teachers.

And two Democratic state Senators believe drastic times call for drastic measures. They introduced the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, which eliminates state income tax for teachers. They hope the bill will attract young people into the profession and keep them there.

It would give new teachers tax credits for the money they spent to earn teaching credentials. The credits would cover costs like college tuition or certification tests, and could be recouped over five years.

It would also exempt teachers who remain in the profession more than five years from paying state income taxes. This would amount to a 4 to 6-percent salary increase.

“There’s no other state in the country that has singled out teaching in the classroom as a profession that should not be taxed,” Bill Lucia, president and CEO of grassroots education and advocacy organization EdVoice, told US News & World Report.

But teacher shortages, while very serious, tend to be localized. Teachers in some parts of the state compete for few available slots, while other parts of the state have many open slots to fill.

The teacher shortage has forced schools to hire underqualified teachers and ask others to teach outside their area of expertise. Data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California Department of Education show that during the 2016-17 school year, 155,000 students in California public schools were being taught by people who lack the required state credentials to be full-time teachers.

There are a couple of problems with the proposed income tax elimination, though.

First, it would coast $617.5 million annually, according to estimates by EdVoice, $9 million of which would help to offset the cost of additional teacher training required by the state. There may not be the political will to pass such an expensive proposal, even if it does ultimately save money, because California currently has a projected budget deficit of $1.6 billion.

Secondly, some education policy experts say the proposal is too broad. They say it should be more targeted to teachers in districts having more difficulty hiring high school teachers or special ed teachers, for example, rather than elementary school or social studies teachers.

The Learning Policy Institute said in a recent report, just 1 percent of districts hiring social studies teachers, but the proposed bill would give them the same benefit as teachers who are much more in demand.

What do you think about the proposed income tax break for California teachers? Would it have the desired effect of combating the state’s teacher shortage, or do you think it would be unfair? Do you think there’s a better way of getting and retaining teachers? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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