California teachers are one step closer to tax credits and exemptions after Senator Henry Stern’s (D-Canoga Park) bill passed the Governance and Finance Committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 807, also referred to as the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act, was voted on unanimously by the committee 6-0. Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) co-authored the bill.
If the bill becomes law, it would provide new public school teachers with tax credits to be applied to up to half the cost of their clear teaching credential, which would save about $1,200. Additionally, it would waive income taxes on half of their income from their sixth through tenth year of teaching.
“We’re trying to find a way to remedy the burden on that profession that is really deterring people from that workforce,” Stern said at the hearing. “It’s not saying teachers shouldn’t pay their fair share just like everyone else.”
Seeking to reduce the California teacher shortage, especially in low income communities, Stern said the bill aims to attract and retain qualified educators to classrooms.
“The purpose of this bill fundamentally is to elevate and educate folks about the nature of this crisis,” Stern said.
After several committee members asked Stern if the bill would make sense fiscally, he said it would be a good long-term return on investment. Although, he said the payoff would not be evident immediately.
“The impact of getting kids access to quality education, you could not make a better investment in the long term,” Stern said.
According to the committee’s analysis, the bill would cost the state $43 million in 2017-18, $35 million in 2018-19 and $43 million in 2019-20.
Also, there would not be a reduction to Proposition 98 funds, the 1998 guarantee for an annual increase in California’s education budget.
Daniel Cohen, a member of the California Teachers Association, testified at the hearing in opposition of the bill. He thanked Stern for addressing the teacher shortage and making amendments to the bill, but said he and other teachers still have concerns.
As public schools are funded by taxes, Cohen said reducing taxes would reduce resources for classrooms.
“We can’t afford to lose any school funding,” Cohen said. “We can’t help our schools and teachers by cutting funding for schools and teachers.”
Instead, he recommended targeting specific geographic areas and school subjects as some are in more dire need of teachers than others.
“How can we as educators, whose jobs and workplaces are funded through tax dollars, allow ourselves to have substantial tax credits and income exclusions while asking parents, staff members, other teachers and tax payers generally to pay their full fair share for schools?” he said.
CEO of EdVoice Bill Lucia, a nonprofit that advocates for students and engages in conversations about state legislation, spoke at the hearing and said he was a proponent of the bill.
“Having these teachers stay in the profession and mature through the salary schedule, they’ll be paying on average higher contributions in underfunding,” Lucia said.
Additionally, Lucia said 155,000 students are being taught by teachers without official training because the need for educators is so great that not all classes can recruit qualified teachers. This is a 100 percent increase over the last two years.
Under the bill, more qualified educators would be in classrooms, he said.
By helping students in low income communities, they have a higher likelihood of being successful later in life, creating a cycle of paying into taxes, according to Lucia.
“It would instead elevate the economic opportunities for kids in low income communities because they will likely be higher tax payers into the general fund rather than having a lifetime of not being able to attain their full potential and economic benefit to the state of California,” Lucia said.
This bill has been adapted since it was first introduced in February when it originally proposed that all working public school teachers would have their entire income tax waived.
The Senate Education Committee will see the bill next.
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