Contrary to Governor Gavin Newsoms suggestion, the answer to Californias teacher shortage isnt tossing money at student loans. The bigger problem? Teachers cant afford to live in California. If Newsom really wants teachers to stay, he should re-evaluate just how challenging it is to live in his stateand make some changes that will truly help educators.
Sure, Newsoms plan could alleviate teacher finances in some ways. New special education teachers in San Diego, for instance, could escape student loans. The San Diego Tribune reported that, in recent months, staff at more than 20 San Diego schools filed grievances over the districts lack of special education teachers.
But that doesnt mean they could escape California rent.
Financial experts recommend setting aside no more than 30 percent of ones annual salary for housing. According to Salary.com, the average San Diego teacher makes $61,113 per year before taxes. According to Zillow, median San Diego rent for a 1 bedroom unit is $1,845 per month36 percent of a teachers annual paycheck.
In San Francisco, teachers earn $71,619 on average. But median rent is $3,848 per month for a 1 bedroom unit. Thats well over half a teachers annual paycheck before taxes.
Commuting is little better. A San Francisco teacher might live in Pleasant Hill, California with a better cost of living. Rent for a 1 bedroom unit there costs $1,965 on average per month33 percent of a San Francisco teachers salary.
But the commute from Pleasant Hill to San Francisco is 28 miles. The average cost of unleaded gas in California was $4.09 per gallon when this article was written. For a car that drives 30 miles to the gallon, that translates to a cost of approximately $7.62 per day. Including bridge toll, teachers could easily pay $14.62 for their daily commute. For teachers who commute most work-days for teaching, summer jobs, and training, that translates to approximately $3,508 per year in commuting costsanother 5 percent of their salary.
With these costs, teachers are better off relocating altogether.
Like California, Nevada struggles to fill teaching positions. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, 43 percent of open positions in Las Vegas Clark County School District are special education positions.
Unlike California, teachers make a comfortable living in Nevada. In Clark County, teachers make $59,114 per year on average, and can rent a 1 bedroom unit for $964 per month. Teachers are also more likely to be able to afford a home. Zillow finds that the median home value in Clark County is approximately $279,900. Thats a sharp contrast to San Francisco, where the median home value is nearly 5 times higher: $1,357,500.
If Newsom truly wants to help teachers, he should eliminate so-called affordable housing laws requiring California cities to build housing to be sold below market value to low-income families. Earlier this year, Newsom sued a California city for failing to meet these requirements. But he doesnt seem to realize that these laws tax the many to help the few.
Benjamin Powell, Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Director of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, studied the effect of these housing policies. Powell found that when cities force builders to sell housing below market value, builders lose profit and build less. This drives up prices for the rest of the city as the housing supply remains stagnant.
In the Bay Area, Powell found that these policies increased housing prices by $44,000 per new home. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, these policies effectively increased new home prices by $66,000. And while 770 inclusionary units were added in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, Powell estimates that 17,000 new homes would have been built had there been no such affordable housing policy.
Its nice of Newsom to ease student debt. But his offer ignores the underlying problem that California housing is too expensive for teachers. Until the Golden State is willing to take a hard and realistic look at its housing policy, itll likely just continue driving its teachers away.