Tax Credit Scholarships: An Ironic Propellant to the California Teacher Shortage

“A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops” – H.B Adams

By Juan Forero

School is back in session! As tens of thousands of San Diego Unified School District students happily return from their summer adventures, teachers sit in now occupied classrooms, wondering if their homeroom numbers will continue to increase.

The teacher shortage in San Diego, however, is not news to those in the profession and for the past ten years the shortage has only increased. Last year alone, a staggering 11,300 of California’s approximate 296,000 K-12 teachers retired; and in two years, the country can expect to lose over half of the teachers and principals it had in 2009 from Boomer retirees alone.

Gone are the days where the veteran teacher of 30 years can look at her classroom and recognize the children of past students. Teachers are simply not sticking to the profession like they used to, with approximately 15.7% of new teachers leaving every year. But while new teacher retention is low, the shortage can easily be attributed to the 70% decrease in enrollment in teacher education programs, a near historic low.

It is not all bad. In California, for instance, teachers are 2% less likely to leave the profession in the first five years than the 17% national average, despite the fact that California’s 24:1 student-teacher ratio is 66% higher than the national average of 16:1.

The shortage cannot be solely attributed to a declining interest in the teaching profession, however, and California recognizes this. In the May revision of the state budget, California legislators increased the education budget by over $1.4 billion. Moreover, the state has strived to make the profession more appealing by implementing subsidies in teaching certification programs, ultimately saving teachers over $20,000 by eliminating a whole year of school. The state has also taken a more direct approach by awarding a five-year grant for establishing “California Centers on Teaching Careers.” These centers were scheduled to open in July 2017 in select cities (San Diego will host one) and will provide online outreach and referral services for teachers.

So with the teacher shortage being a nationwide problem, California can surely count on the federal government for extra funding…right? Not quite. In fact, President Trump’s budget proposal to reallocate $9.2 billion (13.5%) of the current educational budget to private and charter schools could prove to have the exact opposite effect.

The newly proposed diversion of funds to private and charter schools could lead to money – normally intended and used to fund public schools – to plummet. Under the Tax Credit Scholarship program, California businesses that “donate” money to organizations aimed at funding private and charter schools would, in turn, get tax credits. In the spirit of impartiality, the tax incentives could actually prove to be attractive to business: participating business owners in Florida (one of the 17 states to have already implemented this program) reported a $1.49 savings on every $1 “donated.” So while businesses can expect to get a small tax break, the cut and diverted funding leaves public schools hungry for more. This leads to an unlikely but direct enemy to the teacher shortage.

Even though education as a whole is largely funded by the states, there are still programs funding local schools that are at risk of losing finances from federal grants like the Supporting Effective Instruction Grant. California, as the biggest state, stands to lose much of this funding for public schools. As larger chunks are taken from the state’s federal allotment for education, teacher training programs entirely dependent on federal funding will be completely eradicated and with it, tens of thousands of future teaching jobs.

A large factor influencing teacher entrance and retention in California, and other states as well, is the attractiveness of teaching as a profession. From here, it is not inconceivable to imagine how job insecurity literally written into the proposed federal budget and worked into state legislation can lead future aspiring teachers to doubt their career choice – ultimately fueling the already growing teacher shortage in California.

Juan Forero is a third-year law student at California Western School of Law in San Diego, who plans to practice Intellectual Property law. 


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