Bill would provide big tax breaks to teachers

Bill would provide big tax breaks to teachers

(Calif.) In an effort reduce the growing teacher shortage and improve retention rates, a bill pending before lawmakers would exclude certified classroom instructors from paying state income taxes after five years of service.

The proposal, which could cost close to $610 million annually, would also provide a tax credit to cover teaching training costs, including tuition for a master’s degree.

“We’ve got to do something big and different,” said Bill Lucia, president of EdVoice, a non-profit advocacy group that helped draft SB 807. “We need to find better ways to get smart people to come into teaching and bring back some of them that have left.”

Although the bill has yet to be heard in committee and not yet fully analyzed, it has four co-sponsors: Henry Stern, D-Agura Hills, and Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, in the state Senate; and Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara, and Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, in the Assembly.

Sen. Stern said in a statement that the Legislature needs to make this investment because the “teaching profession is critical to California’s economic success and impacts every vocation and profession in the state.

“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,” he said.

According to a February report from the Learning Policy Institute, as much as 75 percent of school districts in California report having some level of shortage in classroom teachers and have resorted to hiring instructors that are not yet fully credentialed or have substandard permits.

Expectations are that the shortage will likely deepen as the number of college students entering teacher preparation programs remains well below pre-recession highs. About 11,000 new credentials are issued annually in California since 2013, but more than a third of the existing workforce is age 50 or older, and as those teachers retire schools will be facing even bigger shortages–especially for those serving students with disabilities and those teaching science and math.

SB 807, known as the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, would sunset after 10 years and begin January, 2017.

As proposed, the income tax exclusion would apply to teachers in the K-12 system who have a clear credential and have been a teacher of record for five years.

The tax credit would be eligible to anyone trying to become a new teacher in California. The qualified costs include:

  • Participation in a program of beginning teacher support assessment;
  • Tuition for a master’s degree leading to a clear teaching credential;
  • Certification assessments, including performance assessments; and
  • Tuition for years four and five in an integrated program of professional preparation.

Lucia noted that the bill requires the cost of the two benefits be paid for outside Proposition 98, the voter-approved minimum school funding mandate. While that provision will probably prove popular within the school community, it might also pose a barrier to getting support from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown has been steadfast in his effort to retire the “wall of debt” while also fighting off efforts by the Legislature to add any new, ongoing burdens on the general fund.

In his January budget, Brown warned that he believes tax collections this year may fall well below projections made last summer. As a result, he proposed no new programs or funding to address the state’s teacher shortage and indeed asked lawmakers to approve a $860 million deferral of school funding this summer.

Not everyone agrees with the governor that revenues will come up short. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst has told lawmakers there’s a strong likelihood that Brown’s cautious fiscal prediction will prove wrong.