Charter schools in America were once championed as incubators of innovation in the American education system. Today, however, charter schools across the country face countless challenges to long-term success. Some of these challenges include lower per-pupil funding than traditional public schools, often a lower-income student demographic, difficult work environments, etc.
But there is one issue that is potentially the biggest challenge and barrier to school success that plagues charter schools across the country: teacher turnover.
Every year, thousands of charter schools across the United States experienced a teacher turnover rate of between 20% to as much as 60% every year. That means that students see between a quarter and over half of their teachers leave their school each year, losing countless mentors and role models along the way.
There are many reasons for teacher turnover in charter schools, especially those in low-income neighborhoods. Among these are high-stress work environments, lack of autonomy in the classroom. But by far the most common reason young educators give for leaving the classroom is financial stress. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Holberg Financial found that 40% of current charter school educators were considering leaving education due to financial stress and the belief that education wasn’t financially sustainable.
Financial stress plagues a majority of Americans, especially young Americans, but teachers are especially hit hard. More than 6 in 10 young educators are living paycheck to paycheck, and the average teacher has over $30,000 in student loan debt and $10,000 in credit card debt. In addition, about 68% of Americans report not having $1,000 in savings for a surprise bill. Also, most Americans don’t own a single stock and two in three young educators aren’t on track to retire on time.
Due to budget constraints that many school districts are facing because of systemic issues in school funding, as well as reduced enrollment in some cases, there is simply not enough money to provide large-scale raises to staff. Because of this, many school leaders originally didn’t view teacher turnover as a negative, instead as a way to save money by not having to pay increasingly experienced staff.
However, the most successful charter school networks have now come to realize this is backwards thinking in the last five years. A recent study from NYU found that teacher turnover costs schools in urban environments between $15,000 and $20,000 for every lost teacher. This loss comes from the HR waste of having to find replacements as well as train them. In addition, more inexperienced teachers ultimately lead to lower student outcomes, which has the long term effect of fewer applications and lower enrollment. Since charter schools get revenue on a per pupil basis, this eventually leads to fewer resources.
As these facts become more widely understood by charter school leaders, it presents them with a dilemma. How can they reduce teacher turnover without having to commit to huge pay increases if the funding simply isn’t available?
Hundreds of schools across the country are figuring out how to reduce teacher financial stress even if they are unable to provide large annual increases to salary. The solution? Financial wellness benefits.
Financial wellness is a buzzy new term that has become increasingly popular in the last five years, but essentially it is a vague term to describe programs that seek to improve the financial health of average Americans.
Historically, the financial services industry in America has been set up to only benefit the wealthiest 3% of Americans. Traditional financial advisors only work with individuals that have at least $250,000 in assets to invest, managing their clients’ money in exchange for a small percentage every year.
The problem? Very few teachers below the age of 50 have a net worth coming anywhere close to $250,000, which means there were no knowledgeable professionals that could help them understand personal finance. Making the problem even worse, less than 5% of Americans have ever even taken any sort of personal finance class and are almost completely unknowledgeable on everything from creating a budget to investing in the stock market.
When you have $40,000 worth of debt, a below average salary, and no one to turn to with questions about your financial situation, the result is overwhelming financial stress. This financial stress leads to tens of thousands of educators leaving the classroom each year to seek higher paying jobs, leaving behind the people who are hit hardest by teacher turnover, the students.
However there may be a solution that fits the needs of all schools. Financial wellness benefit programs, such as Holberg Financial, are designed to reduce the financial stress of ordinary working Americans, especially educators. By providing unlimited one-on-one access to financial coaches, as well as technology solutions to reduce debt, create budgets, save for a home or retirement, and choose the best investments, financial wellness programs allow schools to provide a cost-effective solution to reducing financial stress amongst teachers.
Even if a school can’t afford to give every teacher a 20% raise, by providing a $100 benefit, teachers can increase their net worth by over 20% each year, eliminating much of the financial stress that drives them to leave the classroom and is at the root of teacher turnover.
Some of the early adopters of these programs, such as the successful KIPP network and the Noble charter school network of Chicago, are some of the most successful charter schools in the country, retaining a high percentage of staff and achieving the highest student outcomes in their respective regions.
Teacher turnover in charter schools is a massive issue that thousands of school leaders are now recognizing is possibly their biggest barrier to achieving high student outcomes. However, by providing programs like financial wellness benefits to help educators reduce financial stress, schools can significantly reduce teacher turnover, improve student outcomes, and achieve the high enrollment that ultimately leads to school success.