Districts and States Use Federal Funds to Recruit and Retain Teachers

Around the country, districts are struggling to fill teacher shortages—particularly in licensure areas like special education and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). These staffing challenges are not new, but the pandemic has exacerbated them. 

To combat these shortages, districts have gotten creative in how they use their federal COVID-19 relief dollars. Some of the main ways that districts and states have used their funds to increase teacher recruitment and retention have included payment bonuses and developing robust teacher recruitment programs. Below are a few examples we’ve observed around the country in the past two years.

Hiring and Retention Bonuses 

Several school districts around the country are using their federal COVID relief funding to offer new teachers signing bonuses, which are meant to attract educators to teach in specific licensure and/or geographic areas. Many districts are also using retention bonuses, which are meant to encourage their current teachers to stay. 

In December 2021, Providence Public Schools in Rhode Island announced several initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining high-quality educators. For the 2022-23 school year, the District offered signing bonuses to new employees, including: 

  • Up to $10,000 ($5,000 in year one and $2,500 in years two and three) to individuals who accept an offer to work in a shortage area 
  • $2,500 early contract incentive for teachers who sign a contract prior to March 1, 2022
  • Additional $2,500 early contract incentive for teachers who have three or more years of experience and work in a shortage area

Several districts across Texas are using signing and retention bonuses as a way to recruit and retain educators. Dallas Independent School District offered bilingual teachers a signing incentive of $4,000. Similarly, DeSoto Independent School District offered several signing bonuses, including $4,000 for bilingual education and $5,000 for high-need areas, including science, special education, and career and technical education. With regard to retention, Austin Independent School District offered a $2,500 stipend for bilingual support positions and $6,000 for bilingual teachers. 

In North Carolina, Guilford County Schools used their federal funding to offer up to $30,000 in bonuses to newly hired teachers who can show at least three years of highly effective performance and who agree to work for two years in one of the district’s lowest-performing schools. 

Grow Your Own Initiatives 

Grow Your Own (GYO) is a teacher preparation strategy focused on developing and retaining teachers from the local community. GYO programs are often used to address teacher shortages and increase the diversity of the teacher workforce. 

The New Mexico Department of Education is using $37 million of its federal relief funds to hire 500 educational assistants and then support them through a preparation program, so that they can become a teacher, counselor, or school nurse. The funds will flow through the districts, who will receive grants that cover the education assistant’s full salary plus benefits, a $4,000 stipend to help pay for their postsecondary education, and money to cover licensure fees.  

Tennessee is using $20 million of its federal relief funding to support 65 GYO programs across the state. Many of the state’s GYO programs are focused on supporting paraprofessionals, or creating a pathway for high school students, who are interested in teaching. So far, according to Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education, the programs are helping to prepare about 650 future educators, which would fill about two-thirds of the state’s unfilled vacancies. 

At the district level, the Indianapolis school district has partnered with a local charter network to launch a free, one-year apprenticeship program for current district staff, recent college graduates who didn’t earn a degree in education, and career-changers. All of the program participants work in a classroom, receive a salary, are partnered with a mentor teacher, and receive support in preparing for the state’s licensing exam. 

Student-Teacher Stipends

The Oklahoma Department of Education allocated $12.7 million of its federal money to pay 1,300 student-teachers a stipend for the next three years. Specifically, the student teachers will receive $3,250 in total—half up front and then the remainder after they complete their student teaching and sign a contract to teach in an Oklahoma public school. Oklahoma state officials said that many potential teachers do not complete their teacher preparation programs because of the time commitment to student teaching, which is unpaid. They are hoping that by offering a stipend, more teacher candidates will complete their preparation programs. 

Reflection Questions

  • What are the teacher shortage areas in your district and/or state? 
  • How is your district and/or state using their federal COVID relief funding to recruit and retain teachers? Have those efforts been successful? 

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