California's housing affordability crisis has made it more difficult for school districts to attract and retain teachers, a large reflection of a problem affecting education systems across the country.
The challenge of luring and keeping teachers is notoriously a problem for the San Francisco Bay Area, where housing prices are among the highest in the nation. But it's become a difficult issue in other areas of the state, as well, and it has led to some districts fighting back with affordable-housing measures and other relief efforts.
"The main impacts have been in the Bay Area first and now we're seeing it more and more in Los Angeles with rising rents," said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, a 325,000-member union. "A one-bedroom apartment is $2,000 to $3,000, that's pretty much a teacher's take-home pay for the month (beginning teachers or even those in the middle part of their career)."
The challenges facing school districts in California were highlighted this week when thousands of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District went on strike over a variety of issues, including pay. In Northern California, teachers at several schools in the Oakland Unified School District also are reported to be planning a one-day walkout Friday and asking for more pay.
Late Wednesday, the union representing the picketing Los Angeles teachers announced it would return to the bargaining table Thursday. This is the first teachers strike in 30 years in the second-largest school district in the nation. It follows teacher walkouts in at least five other states in the past year.
The strike comes amid a national teacher shortage and as California is losing teachers to other states, such as Texas, where the cost of living is lower. The teacher shortages are especially being felt in math, science and special education.
Housing affordability has been especially tough for teachers in the San Francisco region.
"In the Bay Area, the cost of living is so expensive that it's proving more and more difficult to attract teachers to live here," said Matthew Duffy, superintendent of West Contra Costa Unified School District in the city of Richmond. "If you want to live in any of the surrounding cities to us — Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco — it's virtually impossible on a teacher's salary."
According to Duffy, for the past five years the East Bay district has been losing almost 20 percent of its teachers each year — a trend he blames on affordability. That is higher than the national average of 10 percent.
Similarly, other nearby Northern California communities also face low retention rates for teachers, including Oakland Unified. It has suffered from a nearly 19 percent teacher attrition rate for at least a decade and the constant threat of budget cuts haven't helped.