Educator’s View: Aiding Teachers With Student Loan Debt, Fees & Financial Literacy Can Help Them Afford to Work in Even the Most Expensive Cities
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California Governor Newsom recently allocated nearly $3 billion in the state budget to enhance teacher preparation programs and address the issue of recruiting and retaining qualified educators. This investment was necessary because the teacher shortage in California has become more severe, worsened by the pandemic’s impact on classroom vacancies. Governor Newsom’s allocation of resources is a step in the right direction, but how can we ensure that teaching remains a viable career choice in the long term?
Increasing teacher salaries may appear to be a straightforward solution, and it is indeed a good start. However, it is not sufficient on its own.
Without providing individuals with the necessary knowledge and tools to manage their finances effectively, the benefits of higher salaries will not be sustainable. The field of education can draw inspiration from the corporate world and consider implementing strategies to eliminate debt and offer ongoing, responsive support for teachers.
Teach For America Bay Area has encountered difficulties in recruiting talented educators, especially due to the soaring cost of living in the region. I personally experienced this challenge and had to leave the profession I loved because of financial constraints.
I began my career as a kindergarten teacher in West Contra Costa in 2010, when the monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland was $1,750. Today, the price for the same unit has doubled. During my three years of teaching, not only did my rent increase exponentially, but my school also faced significant funding cuts after the conclusion of our School Improvement Grant. With dwindling resources and rising living costs, I made the difficult decision to leave the classroom out of fear that I would not be able to pursue my passions and dreams on a teacher’s salary. Many other talented educators have found themselves in a similar predicament.
However, with the appropriate assistance, support, and training, teachers can learn to manage their finances effectively and choose to remain in the profession. As part of my current role, I help current and future teachers access resources that allow them to thrive in the classroom without financial worries. Drawing from my own experiences and best practices in the field, here are some suggestions to enhance financial well-being for teachers:
1. Offer resources for financial literacy education: Financial literacy is often not taught within families, and it is only recently that policymakers and schools have prioritized this aspect of education. Teacher preparation programs can play a crucial role by providing financial literacy resources to incoming educators. For instance, Teach For America partners with Spring to offer one-on-one financial planning coaching, support, seminars, and budgeting tools. This equips teachers with the necessary skills to navigate their finances effectively, particularly in high-cost areas like the Bay Area.
2. Address teacher debt: With over 43 million people burdened by federal student loans, it is no surprise that individuals are turning to companies that promise debt relief. Graduate studies alone leave the average teacher with $37,750 in debt, while early-career teachers typically earn between $45,000 to $50,000 per year. Teach For America Bay Area provides financial assistance of $5,000 to teachers before they even start teaching. This aid includes grants and interest-free loans to cover common out-of-pocket expenses.
3. Lower financial barriers to the teaching profession: Efforts to reduce financial barriers to teaching are gaining traction. Aspire Public Schools, for example, has implemented a Grow-Your-Own program that identifies talented staff members and helps them transition into special education teaching positions. Aspire provides program participants with a first-year teacher’s salary, mentorship, one-on-one coaching, and covers the costs of credentialing.
4. Increase awareness of available resources: Resources can only be effective if teachers are aware of them. The California Legislature allocated $24 million to cover credential fees for prospective teachers, which could have been a valuable resource to alleviate the financial burden of entering the profession. However, a report from the Legislative Analyst Office revealed that 10,000 teachers were unaware of the fee waiver.
Teachers have a calling to educate and empower students, but they must first feel empowered to take care of themselves. By equipping teachers with the knowledge to manage their finances and relieving them of debt burdens as they enter the classroom, prospective teachers, especially those from marginalized communities, will feel empowered and confident in choosing and persevering in a career that may not bring substantial monetary rewards but is aligned with their values. This is the key to ensuring that exceptional teachers remain in the profession.
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