By: Dylan de Wit
California currently faces a major public education crisis. Similar to the housing crisis, California’s teacher supply has failed to meet demand, resulting in severe teacher shortages throughout the state. Seventy-five percent of school districts are understaffed, particularly with regard to fully-credentialed teachers. Compounding this problem is California’s affordable housing crisis. Housing supply has stagnated, rental prices have skyrocketed, and many Californians have been priced out of their homes and cities. These two crises seemed to intersect in late 2016, when the San Francisco Chronicle reported Etoria Cheeks, a local math teacher, fell into homelessness after being priced out of affordable housing in the city. Many viewed Ms. Cheeks’ story as a part of a larger problem, and began calling for action to better secure affordable housing for the state’s teachers.
Accordingly, Assembly Member Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) authored AB 45, which sought to create a development grant program for school districts to offer district-owned affordable rental housing to teachers. The program was framed not as an affordable housing project, however, but a recruitment and retention tool for school districts struggling to staff highly-qualified teachers. Under the program, school districts partnering with developers could secure pre-development funding and development loans to build on-site housing. The goal was to establish affordable rental options, incentivizing new highly-qualified teachers to work in districts they would otherwise avoid due to high rental costs.
AB 45 laid out specific criteria for school districts vying for development funding. Namely, prospective districts had to be in high-rent, hard-to-staff regions. Further, districts needed to have high rates of teachers employed under “emergency credentials,” teachers instructing courses outside their competency, and students on free and reduced lunch program. The bill also sets out development criteria for developers partnering with school districts. For instance, projects must be near public transportation, and must be subject to a project labor agreement (PLA).
Although AB 45 represented a creative approach by the state to staff school districts with high-quality teachers, several provisions suggest its effect may have been minimal. First, the program would have started at $25 million, which was likely enough for only a few projects. Further, AB 45’s PLA provision seemed misplaced given their tendency of PLA’s raise costs on development. Additionally, the program’s criteria suggested it would predominantly benefit urban areas over rural, even though California’s teacher shortage affects both urban and rural school districts equally.
AB 45 passed in September. Governor Brown vetoed the bill, however, citing existing legislation that served a similar purpose. It should also be noted that because AB 45 did not make building housing easier for California developers, Governor Brown was not likely to support the bill from the start.
Nonetheless, similar developments and programs showed significant success in attracting teachers, with most developments being either completely full or waitlisted. This suggests that AB 45 may have been effective for at least a few districts that met the restrictive criteria, and could afford the projects given the program’s limited funds. With some adjustment and perhaps additional funding, a program similar to AB 45 may eventually prove a valuable tool for school districts looking to recruit and retain highly-qualified teachers.
To learn more about AB 45, listen to my interview on “In Session,” a podcast from the University of the Pacific Law Review.