Should teachers in high-poverty California schools get more pay?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La March 30, 2023
Presented by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, FIX PAGA: A Better, Fairer Way for Workers and Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership

Should teachers in high-poverty California schools get more pay?

It’s difficult to exaggerate just how much impact a great teacher can have on a student’s life. Experienced and qualified educators can increase their students’ lifetime earnings and reduce their chances of incarceration. But in California, schools serving more students living in poverty generally have fewer experienced teachers.

In the first in a series of three stories, CalMatters’ K-12 education reporter Joe Hong analyzes one of the most prominent proposals to get more experienced teachers to work in high-poverty schools. Researchers call it “pay flexibility” or “differentiated pay” — the idea that teachers working at high-poverty schools should be paid more than what’s outlined in their school districts’ salary schedules. Some experts say it’s a crucial step to helping close the achievement gap — the lower standardized test scores of low-income students compared to their higher-income peers.

  • Eric Hanushek, a Stanford University economist: “If you take (differentiated pay) off the table, there’s not a lot you can do to get really high-quality teachers into poor schools.”
  • Andrew Johnston, a UC Merced economist: “What happens with rigid pay schedules is that the person who’s totally checked out is being paid the same as a person who’s being a real hero for students.”

The disparities are starkest in large urban school districts, according to an analysis by CalMatters data reporter Erica Yee, who worked with Joe on this story. In San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest district, 17% of teachers at the 20 highest-poverty schools have less than five years of experience.

At the more affluent schools, just 6% have less than five years of experience. Districts in Long Beach, Oakland and Sacramento show a similar trend. These trends align with national research showing that high-poverty communities have the least access to experienced teachers. 

The California Teachers Association opposes pay flexibility. Its handbook says districts use a “single salary schedule” to pay all teachers at all schools the same wages based on their experience and education levels. Single salary schedules are “less arbitrary, clearer and more predictable,” the handbook states. Still, some local union leaders support  differentiated pay in theory, while acknowledging the challenges of implementing differentiated salaries.

  • John Zabala, president of the United Teachers of Richmond: “I think we have to be open to things. But I can already hear the teachers in other schools being upset that they’re not getting additional pay.”

To retain staff from another industry struggling with a labor shortage, California’s Department of Health Care Services has begun issuing $1 billion in one-time retention bonuses to healthcare workers across the state. 

The 788,000 employees at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities will get from $1,000 to $1,500 each  —  bonuses funded in a June 2022 law that aimed to reward them for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. An additional $46 million will go to 44,000 service employees, including clerical, security and facilities workers, in the health sector.

  • Mark Ghaly, Health and Human Services secretary, in a statement: “The tireless efforts and unwavering dedication of these individuals have been nothing short of heroic, as they have put their own health and safety on the line to care for others.”

Later in April, thanks to a September 2022 law, the department will issue another round of retention bonuses — this time to staff members at healthcare clinics, such as social workers, mental health workers and medical assistants.


CalMatters covers the Capitol: CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.


1 Two paths to reparations?

Task Force members listen during the public comment portion of the AB 3121 Task Force to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans meeting in Oakland on Dec. 14, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
State reparations task force members listen during the public comment period of a meeting in Oakland on Dec. 14, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

From Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team:

Descendants of American slaves in California would have at least two pathways for claiming compensation for the injustices and legacy of chattel slavery, the state’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations decided Wednesday. 

One of those avenues is considered a baseline compensation amount that would potentially apply to all descendants of American slaves who meet a California residency requirement. That category is for the general community harm and legacy of slavery, as well as the state’s role in perpetuating racism. 

The other route would be applying for redress for specific injustices experienced under one of five categories outlined in a 40-page report by economists working with the state Department of Justice. Those five categories of harm include: 

  • Health
  • Disproportionate and mass incarceration and over-policing
  • Housing discrimination
  • Unjust property taking by eminent domain
  • Devaluation of Black-owned businesses 

The task force also decided that California  should issue a formal apology  “for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity on African slaves and their descendants.” “Our history has been so buried, so erased, so denied, I think that is an essential element of our mission,” said task force member Donald Tamaki.

As a deadline for the task force nears, the state-appointed panel charged with examining historic racial damage is set to hand in its final recommendations to the Legislature on June 30. The group of nine appointees  shied away from setting specific dollar amounts that would be due to each California resident who can prove they are a descendant of American slavery,  although some news coverage has  painted the effort as potentially bankrupting California. 

“I want to make it clear that the task force has yet to make any final determinations when it comes to dollar amounts,” task force Chairperson Kamilah Moore said. “I think it’s improper to prejudge what the precise number is that we may recommend.” 

Economist Thomas Craemer agreed, stressing that the financial experts were only attempting to calculate the monetary losses, not what is owed. 

“I would say this is all premature,” said Craemer, referring to a recent news article that cited a $800 billion figure for what is due. “We’re estimating losses … We’re not necessarily representing that those losses are equal to the reparations. We leave it to the task force to make those determinations.” 

The task force meets again today at the CalEPA building, 1001 I St., Sacramento. The meeting can be livestreamed. Public comments begin at 9:15 a.m.

Smaller institutions are also exploring reparations as well. Last week, the Berkeley Unified School District announced that it will create a task force of 15 to 20 people to study giving cash payments to African American students whose ancestors were enslaved. 

  • The school district, in its announcement: “No ‘true’ reparations program for descendants of enslaved people currently exists at the federal, state, or local level. It is time for that to change; BUSD can and should lead such a change.”

The task force is currently looking for members, who would include teachers, community members and at least one student. The group will need to answer how the district would pay its students, as well as how to structure and implement the program. It is expected to send its recommendations by January 2024 while holding meetings throughout the year.

2 Atkins wants to end travel ban

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins speaks in the Senate chambers of the California State Capitol on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins speaks in the Senate chambers of the state Capitol on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

From CalMatters’ politics reporter Alexei Koseff:

As California prohibited publicly-funded travel to nearly two dozen states with anti-LGBTQ laws over the past six years — including Texas, Florida and Arizona — the ban seemed to become more restrictive for Californians than those it was intended to punish.

So the state may soon do away with it altogether. Under a forthcoming bill by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, the travel ban would be replaced by a program to buy advertising in those same states to promote LGBTQ inclusion.

Atkins, the first openly gay leader of the state Senate, told reporters Wednesday that California could be a beacon for LGBTQ people across the country by acting as a bridge to marginalized groups in other states.

  • Atkins: “We are precluding ourselves from being those ambassadors of acceptance if we are not allowed to go.”

The state travel ban was adopted in 2016, after North Carolina stirred national controversy with a law requiring people to use only bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth. Since then, 23 states have been added to the list because of new laws that exclude transgender girls from high school sports, limit access to transgender health care and allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Despite the boycott, these states have remained defiant about their approach to LGBTQ rights — while California politicians, academic researchers and public university athletes (including San Diego State’s men’s basketball team, currently on its way to the NCAA Final Four in Houston) increasingly turn to private donations to get around the travel restrictions.

Atkins defended the effectiveness of the travel ban, which she argued “sent a message loud and clear” in its first few years, raising awareness about a growing number of laws targeting LGBTQ people. She said her bill does not represent a retreat, because the proposed advertising program, which would be privately funded but could eventually seek state support, builds on the goal of advancing tolerance toward the LGBTQ community.

  • Atkins: “I don’t see it as a failure. I see it as you need to adjust to make sure we are exporting our values to those who need it the most.”

3 Frustration boiling over toward UC, CSU

Students walk through the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2022. Photo by Raquel Natalicchio for CalMatters
Students walk through the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2022. Photo by Raquel Natalicchio, CalMatters

When it comes to grading how well the University of California and Cal State are doing at enrolling California students, lawmakers are giving them an A for effort, but a C for results.

On Tuesday, Assemblymembers voiced their frustration at both higher education systems for their low enrollment numbers, despite receiving a bump in funds to specifically up admissions, reports CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn.

Every California undergraduate that the UC system enrolls costs the state about $10,900. To increase enrollment numbers of California students, the Legislature has given $51.5 million to the UC to enroll more full-time students by 2023-24. 

It gave an additional $30 million to the three universities that have the most out-of-state students — UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles and UC San Diego — to specifically enroll California residents. Legislators also agreed to increase UC funding by $215 million.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office says all that money should have upped enrollment by 203,000 more California students. But despite boasting a “record-breaking” number of applicants, UC anticipates missing that target by 4,000 students. 

Lawmakers stopped short of cutting funds because of the lack of enrollment numbers, despite a recommendation from the analyst office to do so. Nevertheless, they gave UC officials a stern warning, Mikhail reports.

  • Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento: “We would be super, super disappointed…if we came back a year from now, and we had the same (problem). And then at the same time, tens of thousands of Californians from all of our districts with 4.3 GPAs didn’t get into the UC, even though their parents pay taxes.”

To its credit, the UC technically has enrolled more undergrad students this year, but they’re not considered full-time since they’re taking fewer class units per term.

On the subject of state spending, CalMatters’ homelessness reporter Marisa Kendall writes that another $736 million for homeless housing is now up for grabs after Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced the latest round of funding for his signature Project Homekey initiative. 

The program, which has been a cornerstone of the governor’s efforts to tackle California’s homelessness crisis since its launch in 2020, helps cities and counties turn hotels, apartments, dorms and other buildings into housing for homeless residents. The governor has allocated $3.4 billion to Homekey so far, and his office says the program has helped create 12,774 homes across the state.  

  • Newsom, in a statement: “At a time when more housing is desperately needed, Homekey is proving that we can build faster, and at a fraction of conventional construction costs.”

The state will accept applications through July 28, or until funding runs out. 

4 Fletcher calls it quits

Nathan Fletcher, San Diego County Supervisor for the 4th District of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda, The San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego County supervisor Nathan Fletcher. Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Nathan Fletcher’s once promising career in California politics appears to have crashed and burned.

Late Wednesday night, he announced that he will resign as San Diego County supervisor at the end of his medical leave at an out-of-state treatment center. “A combination of my personal mistakes plus false accusations has created a burden that my family shouldn’t have to bear,” he tweeted.

His wife Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former Assemblymember and current California Labor Federation chief, said she asked him to resign, though she also believes “his name will be cleared.”

Nathan Fletcher’s rapid fall started Sunday night, when he released a surprise announcement that he would end his state Senate campaign and seek treatment for post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse.

Then, earlier Wednesday, a new lawsuit alleged that Nathan Fletcher sexually assaulted and harassed a then-colleague at the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and that the agency wrongfully terminated her employment in 2022. He acknowledged the affair, but in a statement through his attorney, broadly denied the accusations and claimed that his accuser had asked for money. 

  • Fletcher, in a statement: “I have not done the things they are alleging, but I did violate the basic trust and loyalty of my marriage and set a terrible example for our children… I will spend my life working to repair the damage done to my family.” 

Before the allegations were made public, Fletcher resigned his position as board chairperson of the transit system on Tuesday night. And after a day of turmoil and scandal, he declared he will soon no longer be a county supervisor, either. 


CalMatters Commentary

Silicon Valley Bank agreed to invest more than $9 billion to support low-income communities in California. Its new owners should honor that commitment, write Paulina Gonzalez-Brito, CEO of the California Reinvestment Coalition, and Manuel Pastor, director of the Equity Research Institute at USC.

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters is on vacation this week; his next column will appear Monday.


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How D.A. Brooke Jenkins has transformed San Francisco crime policies // San Francisco Chronicle

Former Alameda County prosecutor calls D.A. Pamela Price’s policies dangerous // ABC 7

Tech sector H-1B workers’ spouses can work in U.S., judge says // Bloomberg

Tejon Ranch undecided after 12,000-acre Grapevine project blocked // Bakersfield Californian

State to audit San Jose homelessness spending, in push for accountability // Mercury News

Records suggest SF failed to monitor nonprofits that got millions // San Francisco Standard

Twitter suspends anti-police account after LAPD union sues // Los Angeles Times 

Prominent LA Chinese Americans are fighting disloyalty claims from the right // LAist

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