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$1000 bonus checks for educators: which states will send the payments using stimulus money?

Teachers from states around the country are or will receive bonuses thanks to federal stimulus funds. Who is getting them and how much are they worth?

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$1000 bonus checks for educators: which states will send the payments using stimulus money?
Michael loccisano AFP

State and school district administers are coming up with creative ways to use additional stimulus money for education passed as a part of the American Rescue Plan.

With many children at home during the pandemic, teachers had to adjust their curriculum and lessons for a virtual space. More than six states and districts are offering teachers a bonus or thank you payment for their work throughout the pandemic.

Which states and districts are participating?

California’s Berkley Unified School District (BUSD) will spend around $4 million to give teachers a 3.5% pay increase for this coming school year. In California, the average teacher makes 83,059. In Berkley, the pay scale starts at a little over $49,000 a caps the highest salaries for teachers at $102,000. Berkeley’s plan is unique because it provides the bonus as a percent, meaning that higher-paid teachers will see larger payments.

After the announcement was made, the President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers said described the raise as “a small but important step to keep up with the ballooning cost of living in the Bay Area and that it is not related to hazard pay or working conditions during the pandemic.” The move has been criticized by parents who feel that the payments are a poor use of federal funds.

Florida

A Florida bill allocated more than $400 million to send bonuses to teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other first responders. Most teachers and administrators are expected to receive a $1000 check, but recent reporting shows that many educators may have been left out.

The proposal to send the payments came from Governor Ron DeSantis, who asked the legislature to approve the funding for $1,000 checks to be sent to 3,600 public school principals and nearly 180,000 full-time classroom teachers. The law passed, but it leaves out critical school personal such as counselors and other support staff.

The President Florida Education Association, Andrew Spar, has spoken out about his disappointment about the exclusion of 120,000 staff members, saying, “It takes a whole educational village to serve students. Giving a bonus to only teachers and principals overlooks all the other people who are crucial to educating kids — bus drivers, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, counselors, and many other support staff.

To send the checks, the state contracted Fidelity, a large financial company that will send a physical check to all those eligible next months rather than sending the payments through direct deposit. This move has been criticized by Mr. Spar, who said told the Miami Herald that he believed the contract with Fiedelt was a waste of public funds and argued that the state “could have just sent the money to school districts at no cost to taxpayers,” like they had in the past.

Georgia

In March, the Georgia Board of Education approved a plan to send a $1,000 bonus to teachers using federal covid-19 relief aid. The move to incentivize teachers to stay in the sector will cost around $240 million

The bonus was applauded by teachers and the Superintendent of the Board of Education, Richard Woods, who said that the state wants “to ensure these hard-working employees are recognized for their above-and-beyond efforts, and we want them to stay in public education for the benefit of the students they serve."

Unlike Florida’s plan, Georgia will send money to a wider range of educational professionals, which Woods said is critical because “These bonuses are intended to thank all public-school employees – from the teacher who found new ways to reach a classroom of students, to the bus driver who kept those students safe on the way to school."

Michigan

Earlier this year, the State of Michigan distributed a $500 hazard pay bonus to teachers in the state. The MI Classroom Heroes Grants also sent $250 to school staff and, in total, cost the state around $73 million.

Tennessee

The Tennesse state government passed a bill in June, which removed a 2 percent raise many educators had been expecting and replaced it with a $1,000 hazard pay bonus to full-time teachers and $500 for those working part-time. The bill was signed on 30 June, and educators are expected to receive their checks before 1 January 2022.

Texas

Various media outlets have reported that Texas teachers will be receiving a bonus. Still, nothing has been confirmed by the Texas Education Agency, the two largest teachers unions, or the Governor’s Office.

However, some districts, including Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield, and Denton, approved bonuses and pay increases for their teachers in June.

In Fort Worth and Arlington, the school boards passed a measure that will increase pay by 4% for all district employees. In Denton and Mansfield, district employees will see a 2% raise.

Staff in Denton will also receive a $500 retention bonus, while in the Irving district, a $2,000 payment will be distributed to staff returning to the classroom this year.

Are any other states considering the measure?

Even before the pandemic, the United States was experiencing a teacher shortage. Having to "go virtual" was not seen as feasible for many teachers who opted to leave the profession.

In June, as many of these bonus bills began to pop up, NBC reported: “270,000 public school teachers are projected to leave the profession between 2016 and 2026, according to government data, and recent polling by a prominent national teachers union showed that nearly 1 in 3 teachers said Covid-19 has made them more likely to resign or retire early.”

While these bills may not be a long-term solution, they are likely to help keep teachers in the classroom through next year. Lawmakers in California and Colorado have floated the idea, but no legislation has been made public.

Other districts like that of Little Rock, Arkansas, have also passed bonuses to encourage vaccination among staff.