Unions promote the conceit of a teacher shortage whenever they’re seeking more money, which is basically all the time. Over the last six years—that is, since California voters approved a tax hike on the wealthy—state spending on education and the per pupil allotment have increased by 55%.
Yet many school districts are now threatening layoffs. Santa Ana Unified School District this week is sending pink slips to nearly 300 teachers to save $28 million. In San Diego nearly 900 teachers received layoff warnings this month as the school district grapples with a $124 million deficit. It seems many school districts employ more teachers than even their bloated budgets will support.
Where is all the money going? Santa Ana’s school board spent $32 million on a teacher pay boost. Many districts have padded their payrolls, as more teachers were hired in 2016 than during any year in the last decade. Pension and retiree health costs are ballooning. Between 2013 and 2020, teacher pension bills will more than double to 19.1% of district payrolls.
These legacy costs are especially burdensome in low-performing districts where enrollment is shrinking due to charter-school competition. Enrollment has declined by about 15% in Santa Ana district-run schools and more than 20% in Los Angeles’s in a decade. Note that charters aren’t complaining about a lack of qualified teachers.
To the extent a shortage exists, it’s a dearth of good teachers. State law requires districts to fire newer teachers first when budget layoffs occur, even if they are better than older counterparts. Last-in-first-out policies discourage bright young people from teaching. According to a Teacher Plus poll last year, 63% of California principals believe seniority-based layoffs are viewed negatively by people considering the profession. Nearly three-quarters reported having fired a young teacher who was more effective than a veteran.
School reformers challenged last-in-first-out in the Vergara lawsuit based on equal protection and disparate impact but lost on appeal. Yet you almost have to admire the gall of Democrats who are adopting Vergara’s arguments to support legislation exempting teachers who have worked more than five years from state income tax.
“High teacher turnover rates have a negative impact on pupil achievement, and the effect is more pronounced in high-minority, high-poverty schools,” the legislation notes, adding that students with “effective teachers are more likely to earn higher salaries, attend college, and save more for retirement.”
The tax exemption would increase teacher pay by 4% to 6%, and veterans who earn the most would receive the biggest benefit. This doubles down on the seniority system. If Democrats were serious about hiring the best teachers, they’d pay them for performance and abolish last-in-first-out. But as usual they’re more interested in helping their union friends.