Which states are paying $1000 “thank you” stimulus and to whom?
States and school districts across the US are sending teachers one-time “thank you” bonuses using stimulus funds, drawing the ire of some parents.
Teachers were one of the several groups of workers who faced serious challenges in performing their job during the pandemic. They often had to juggle teaching in-person and online, with erratic schedules as schools had to shut down due to outbreaks.
As a way to show appreciation for their efforts, and to help retain teachers and staff, school districts and states have been approving one-time “thank you” or hazard pay bonuses using federal stimulus funds. This however is causing some to raise the question of whether it is a proper use of the funding.
Which states and school districts are paying one-time bonuses
Georgia in March approved a “retention bonus” of $1,000 to around 230,000 K-12 public school-level teachers and staff. The one-time bonuses were created to support stronger recruitment and retention, along with a show of “gratitude for their work and sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Funds for the program came from the $660.6 million federal covid-19 stimulus the state received and will cost $230.5 million.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a similar payout to educators in March as part of the state’s budget which was passed in June. Around 175,000 Florida teachers and 3,600 principals will receive a $1,000 “thank you” bonus. However, some 120,000 other school staff members were left out of the Governor DeSantis’ appreciation scheme. Florida will spend $216 million of the funds it received from Congress to pay those bonuses.
Hawaii was going to be a bit more generous with its teachers, giving each a one-time “stabilization payment” of $2,200 “for the purpose of educator workforce stabilization to retain teachers.” The payments would have gone to full- and half-time teachers and cost the state $29.7 million of its federal covid-19 stimulus funds. However, in the end Governor David Ige vetoed the bill.
Michigan in October set aside $73 million in hazard pay for teachers and support staff. It was part of an agreement reached between Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature. The “MI Classroom Heroes Grants” sent $500 bonus payments to teachers and $250 checks to staff at the end of February.
Other proposals for one-time bonuses or pay increases have been proposed or implemented by school districts in California, Colorado, Tennessee and Texas. However, using money from the covid-19 funds has drawn the ire of some parents and questions over whether the money is being used appropriately.
Questions over the use of stimulus money for one-time bonuses
The extra money was welcomed by those that received it. “It was such a challenging year. To have that recognition from state officials of what teachers had been experiencing — there was such appreciation.” Cherie Dennis, a teacher in Savannah, Georgia, told Chalkbeat about how teachers at her school felt. However, some parents have questioned states and districts using the federal stimulus funds for bonuses and not to help students directly. "I'm the last person to say 'don't pay teachers.' However, it should come from the appropriate bond," a mother told the Wall Street Journal.
Then there is the matter of the US Department of Education guidance on how the federal money can be used. If the one-time bonuses are “reasonable and necessary” they should get pass muster. In the case of Georgia, the bonuses were approved around the time teachers signed their contract for the following year. The intention was focused on not just boosting morale but also retaining talent, essential for a school to work and students to learn. However, the US Department of Education sent Florida a letter questioning its decision to use covid-19 funds for that state’s bonuses to teachers.
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