Hot new idea out of California: maybe teachers shouldn't have to pay state income taxes

The public school system remains fraught with problems, including the difficulties encountered in finding and retaining high quality talent to work as teachers. This issue is as true in California as across the rest of the nation and the state government is hard at work seeking to address it. But this latest brainstorm appears to have more than a few problems of its own. State legislators have cooked up a plan whereby teachers who work in the public sector for a certain period of time would become exempt from paying state income taxes. (Sacramento Bee)

A California Senate bill proposes a new way to solve the teacher shortage: Let them keep their state income tax.

California is struggling to recruit and retain teachers as baby boomers retire and meager starting salaries do little to attract young people to the profession. Making matters worse, nearly one in three teachers leave the profession in the first seven years, according to the California Teachers Association.

Senate Bill 807, introduced by Democratic Sens. Henry Stern of Los Angeles and Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton, offers an incentive for teachers to remain in the classroom. After teaching for five years, California educators would be exempt from paying a state income tax.

Nobody is denying that teachers play a critical role in our society, but the long held belief that teachers are vastly underpaid needs to be re-examined. This was certainly true back in the 70s when I was growing up, but there have been reforms underway for quite some time. It’s also impossible to underestimate the power and influence that the nation’s teachers unions have with Democrats and the deals they have managed to work out with the government have gone a tremendous ways toward addressing former inequities.

Since we’re talking about California in particular, let’s take a look at just how much teachers are getting paid these days with data provided from the California Department of Education.

Even teachers at the smallest schools in California are generally getting nearly $44,000 per year to start. By the time they achieve tenure they are making closer to $60,000. Let’s compare that to the national median individual income as listed by the Census Bureau. It falls just a bit above the $50,000 per year mark. Precisely how much “incentive” do people need to take these jobs? When you can walk in the door and begin earning more than roughly half the people in the country (and we’re talking about a job at the K – 12 level which does not require a doctorate) I’d say you’re not doing all that badly, particularly when you take into account the fact that one quarter of the year is comprised of summer vacation where your workload is quite light if you are working at all.

Still, if the people of California via their elected representatives want to toss more goodies to the teachers in public schools I suppose that’s up to them. But where does it stop? If you take an entire class of people based on their occupation and say that they are somehow “more deserving” than everyone else and should be exempted from paying state income taxes, what other groups might qualify? It’s not hard to imagine quite a few of these “deserving” professions being rather quick to have their hands out. At this point the state hasn’t even calculated what sort of a hit their budget will take from losing all of that revenue. But don’t worry. I’m sure they can just jack up the taxes yet again on everyone else when they realize that their budget is coming up short.