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California school board members to state lawmakers: Don’t make it harder to attract and recruit diverse, talented teachers

Lorena Chavez, Mónica García, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Tom Panas and Cipriano Vargas | May 15, 2019

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An open letter to state Assembly members, from California school board members Lorena Chavez (East Side Union High School District), Mónica García (Los Angeles Unified School District), Jumoke Hinton Hodge (Oakland Unified School District), Tom Panas (West Contra Costa Unified School District) and Cipriano Vargas (Vista Unified School District):

Education is the cornerstone of our communities, fueling progress and development in our cities and our state for generations to come. As elected school board members in large California cities, we want young people in our communities to have access to strong public schools that will allow them to lead successful, fulfilling lives. To this end, the single most important ingredient for strong public schools is high-quality classroom teachers.

The benefit of teachers is clear and unassailable, but it has never been more difficult to recruit qualified teachers in California. In our state, a vast majority of school districts — including ours: San Jose, Los Angeles, Oakland, West Contra Costa (Richmond) and Vista unified school districts — are experiencing a teacher shortage. According to the nonpartisan Learning Policy Institute, California needed roughly 24,000 new teachers for the 2017-18 school year, but only about 16,000 teachers, across all teacher preparation pathways, received credentials to teach.

With this chronic teacher shortage, we are disheartened by a bill in Sacramento that will make it even harder to attract and recruit diverse, talented teachers to California’s classrooms.

Assembly Bill (AB) 221 would prevent public schools in California from working with community partners to bring passionate, qualified teachers into the profession. The bill would ban teachers provided by these community partners who do not commit to teaching for at least five years or who teach at any school where at least 40 percent of students are from low-income families.

As stewards of public education, we stand together in strong opposition to AB 221, because the bill would have an adverse impact on public education in our cities and in communities across California.

AB 221’s requirement of a five-year commitment from teacher candidates would have the unintended consequence of discouraging many talented people from entering the teaching profession. Before the five-year mark, new teachers may decide that they want to pursue school administration or realize teaching is not their best career path. We have heard from veteran teachers that many would not have considered teaching if they had been required to commit to five years at the outset. Amidst a severe statewide teacher shortage, we should be encouraging people to teach, not creating barriers.

Additionally, AB 221 would disproportionately impact prospective teachers and students of color. Community partners like Teach For America are some of the most diverse teacher pathways in California. For example, 61 percent of first- and second-year Teach For America teachers identify as people of color, compared to only 48 percent of first- and second-year public school teachers statewide. Blocking access to this diverse pool of teachers would disproportionately impact African-American and Latinx teachers, which in turn would have negative consequences on African-American and Latinx students.

What’s more, AB 221 infringes on local control in teacher hiring decisions. Local school leaders know their students best and should be able to hire the state-certified teachers they want to staff their public schools. This is why AB 221 is opposed by a broad coalition of state organizations representing school districts, including the California School Boards Association, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and the Association of California School Administrators.

Finally, the bill would increase costs to school districts and the state. The California Assembly Appropriations Committee’s analysis of AB 221 found that it has the potential of imposing unknown Prop. 98 cost pressures on public schools. The bill would force urban districts like ours to increase spending on the recruiting and hiring of teachers, leaving less public funding for students. AB 221 would also require the California Department of Education to spend additional funds on monitoring and enforcement. These education resources would be better spent on students, rather than bureaucracy.

We urge legislators in Sacramento to vote against AB 221. To build a strong public education system for California’s students, our lawmakers should be passing legislation that will encourage, not discourage, talented people to enter the teaching profession.

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