Writing for FutureEd, Phyllis Jordan and Bella DiMarco explore trends in federal COVID ed aid spending. Excerpts from the piece appear below:
To understand state and local policymakers’ strategies for bolstering teaching resources in the wake of the pandemic, FutureEd analyzed the COVID relief spending plans of 5,000 districts and charter organizations, representing 74% of the nation’s public school students. In addition, they examined additional documents and conducted interviews to gauge how the nation’s 100 largest districts plan to reinforce their teaching ranks with the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund (ESSER III).
The result is a comprehensive picture of state and local spending on the nation’s more than 3 million-member teaching force, revealing seven significant spending trends.
1. Expanded Staff
While districts are investing heavily in interventions such as summer and afterschool programs and tutoring to address learning loss, especially for traditionally underserved students, a major priority has been adding instructional staff. About 60% of districts and charter organizations plan to use federal relief to hire new teachers or pay current staffers more to expand instruction.
2. Smaller Classes
Reducing class sizes to provide more intensive support to students who fell behind during the pandemic is a common strategy among the 100 largest districts. Baltimore County, for instance, allocated $11.6 million over two years for 78 teachers to reduce class sizes. Several districts — New York City; Long Beach, California; Washoe County, Nevada; and Shelby County, Georgia, among them — focused these efforts on the primary grades.
As districts returned to in-person instruction after months of virtual learning, many administrators realized they didn’t have enough staff members to fill their classrooms. In some places, teachers had moved to districts offering higher pay or left the profession. In others, there were simply new positions to fill. And in certain communities and academic specialties, teachers have always been hard to find. Little surprise, then, that about 20% of school districts in the national sample — and 47% of the largest districts — are using federal money to recruit and retain teachers.
4. Staff Retention
Since the pandemic began, some state legislatures have approved substantial salary increases to help districts hold on to the teachers they’ve got. Others are providing one-time bonuses or “hazard pay” for teachers and others.
5. Increased Workloads
At least 33 of the top 100 districts are earmarking federal money to pay teachers stipends for additional hours, a significant trend given unions’ traditional commitment to restricting the scope of teachers’ work. At least 21 of the largest districts are using federal money to pay teachers for working with students before or after school; another two are paying for work on weekends and during school breaks.
6. Improved Working Conditions
The pandemic has left many teachers stressed out and stretched thin. In response, some districts are using federal aid to improve working conditions, particularly allowing more time for planning and collaboration.
7. New Skills, Knowledge
Professional development has emerged as one of the most popular uses of federal COVID aid nationally, with about 43% of districts and charters nationwide planning investments and about 15% spending on social-emotional training and materials. Among the 100 largest districts, 82 plan to use the funds to train teachers on such topics as evidence-based instructional approaches, family engagement strategies, and new technology platforms. Some are using the money to contract with training providers, while others are training their teachers to coach fellow staff.