Poor working conditions, modest pay, and teacher bashing exact a toll

A decade of bashing teachers has left California and the nation with a dire shortage. Demand for K-12 teachers has increased while the new teacher supply is at a 12-year low.

Enrollment in California’s teacher preparation programs has dropped by 76 percent over the last decade, far below what is needed to fill vacancies, according to Linda Darling-Hammond, faculty director at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. 
This year alone, California needed to fill 21,500 slots, but the state is issuing fewer than 15,000 new credentials. The number of provisional and short-term permits in 2014-15 tripled from two years earlier. Twice as many students in high-minority schools are taught by teachers on waivers or permits, and not yet enrolled in a preparation program.

Recruitment difficulties and high turnover in the growing Salinas Union High School District are common, reports Kati Bassler, president of the Salinas Valley Federation. Out of 780 teachers in the district, 100 were new this year and about 20 percent of those were not credentialed. The salary for beginning teachers is only $42,000.

Bassler can’t see how anyone can survive on less than $50,000. “The housing crunch hits us hard,” she says, “as people escaping high costs in the Bay Area, Gilroy, and other towns move into Salinas and raise our costs. On top of that, we’re a high-risk, high-crime community.”
Starting pay for teachers in California hovers around $41,000 while average national starting salaries for computer science graduates are $52,000 and electrical engineering is $57,000. “Though teaching is a rewarding profession and has an impact on the lives of children, it can’t compete economically,” says CFT President Josh Pechthalt. “Between constant political bombardment and modest pay, it’s no wonder that folks avoid the profession.” 
Lita Blanc, president of United Educators of San Francisco, says the city is losing hundreds of teachers and paraprofessionals each year because they cannot afford to live there. Many are forced to move to less expensive neighboring cities and face long commutes. “This destabilizes schools and has an impact on student learning.”

Numerous bills addressing the shortage are before the Legislature. One, CFT-sponsored AB 2122, would provide district-based grants for qualifying classified employees to help cover the cost of getting a four-year degree and credential. (See full story, page 13)

At the same time, a recent poll by Hart Research Associates shows that the American public believes teachers are profoundly undervalued and need more support and better treatment to elevate the profession and improve public education.

— By Mindy Pines, CFT Reporter