California School News — August 2017
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Putting Out Two Fires: Extinguishing The Housing And Teacher Shortage Crises
CSBA President Susan Henry

Earlier this year, California raised taxes by $5.2 billion annually in order to shore up and expand the state’s aging infrastructure. Anyone who has traveled California’s highways knows we need to upgrade our transportation network — it’s a critical part of maintaining our competitive edge. Yet, modernizing roads and bridges will not, on its own, deliver continued prosperity. If we want to ensure that California remains an economic powerhouse, we have to invest in a very different kind of infrastructure, the human infrastructure that is the source of past triumphs and the key to future greatness.

We can start by providing for the students who will build that future and the teachers and staff who will develop the skills to make it possible. The Governor’s budget nodded in that direction with a section devoted to the state’s lack of affordable housing, noting that “members of median to moderate income professions such as teachers, firefighters, police officers, and nurses are increasingly unable to afford to live in the communities that they serve.”

When those who are responsible for nurturing, protecting, healing and saving lives can’t afford to reside in the neighborhoods they help bind together, it’s clear we have a major problem. That conclusion is reinforced by a new Learning Policy Institute report which notes that roughly 90 percent of teacher vacancies are due to teachers leaving the profession, and argues that a national teacher shortage could be alleviated by improving retention. The results echoed those of a 2016 study “California Teacher Shortages: A Persistent Problem,” which CSBA conducted with LPI. The report found that 75 percent of surveyed districts indicate there are too few qualified teachers to fill their teaching vacancies. That’s bad news for students as teacher shortages leave school districts with high rates of vacancies, forcing them to increase class sizes and rely on underprepared teachers and substitutes.

Statewide, the supply of new teachers in California has hit a 12-year low, and enrollment in educator-preparation programs has dropped by more than 70 percent over the last decade. This trend has a disproportionate impact on schools serving low-income and minority students, and is likely to worsen as baby boomers begin to retire en masse. Searching for a solution to their own teacher shortages, other states are recruiting heavily in California, luring candidates with recruiting bonuses and the promise of lower housing costs. To prevent deterioration of learning conditions in this state, we must move aggressively to tackle the teacher shortage and housing issues.

The National Center for Education Statistics found that a quarter of teachers who left the profession identified housing incentives as a way to bring them back, suggesting a clear strategy for addressing the issue — one that’s particularly relevant for housing-challenged California. Certain school districts, such as those in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Clara, have taken steps to try and provide housing for some of their teachers, and other districts are following suit. One approach is to build housing developments aimed at district employees. Another is to provide rental assistance to targeted groups of teachers and other staff. A third strategy districts are exploring involves expanding access to homeownership opportunities through existing programs like down payment assistance and Teacher Next Door, which helps educators buy their first homes in designated communities.

California has the second-lowest home ownership rate in the country. Roughly 20 percent of the state’s households spend more than half their income to keep a roof over their heads and the situation is much worse in many areas. According to an analysis of housing affordability in California conducted by Redfin in 2016, only 17 percent of California homes for sale are affordable on the average teacher salary, down from 30 percent in 2012. If owning a home is out of reach for the great majority of our teachers and school staff, rents are no bargain either. A 2016 analysis of the Department of Housing and Urban Development fair market rent data shows that the median monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is nearly $2,300, with similarly high values in the Oakland metro area ($2,100) and the San Jose metro area ($2,300), while median rents in Los Angeles and San Diego check-in at a still pricey $1,500 per month. Some counties in the Central Valley, and those in the extreme northern and eastern parts of California, rank below the national average for affordability, but even many cheaper rural areas struggle with a lack of rental housing that could help attract and retain young teachers, other public servants and any Californian with a modest income.

If the housing shortage merely affected those who teach our students, keep us safe, and tend to our sick, that would be bad enough. Yet, the impact doesn’t stop with the adults who struggle to find suitable homes; unattainable housing is a major contributor to California’s teacher shortage and hinders our ability to prepare students for a robust economic future.

School districts that have tackled the housing shortage emergency headon should be applauded for their initiative and for showing leadership when others won’t. Yet, these individual approaches are woefully inadequate when compared to the size of a problem that requires a bold, statewide effort. California must rise to the challenge and invest in comprehensive solutions to its housing affordability and teacher shortage crisis.