In plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, states are detailing how they will use COVID-19 relief funding to recruit and retain teachers, including strengthening the teacher pipeline through "Grow Your Own" programs, offering financial incentives, providing staff mental health supports and creating alternative licensure routes.
In several cases, states are using relief funding to employ evidence-based strategies to strengthen the educator workforce. Georgia, for example, is partnering with the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders and Kennesaw State University on a mentoring and induction program for new special education teachers across the state, among other efforts.
The pandemic has exacerbated the teacher shortage crisis and school leaders, who are trying to prioritize in-person learning this school year, are also struggling to hire other personnel such as bus drivers, psychologists and substitutes.
Although a recent survey of nearly 300 district leaders, summarized by RAND, showed teacher and principal turnover had not changed much compared to pre-pandemic levels, the new school year in some areas is off to a shaky start because of staffing shortages, according to news reports.
Many factors could contribute to the challenges in retaining teachers, but the 2020-21 school year’s mix of hybrid and in-person learning, plus the emotional toll the pandemic has placed on school staff and students, are likely stress points, said Lynn Holdheide, the GLT Center's senior advisor.
“Teachers are feeling the typical stress of teaching, but dealing with the implications of the pandemic, changing expectations from in-person to virtual learning," Holdheide said. "Teachers are feeling immense pressure – much more so than the typical year."
Many education stakeholders, such as Holdheide, are hopeful some of the nearly $200 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds will go toward solutions to strengthen and support the educator workforce.
Indeed, the state plans show an array of practices. Here are just some examples:
Illinois set aside funding from ESSER to support affinity groups in order to improve teacher satisfaction, efficacy and retention.
Louisiana plans to spend $39.4 million on new teacher supports, a pre-educator pathway, professional development on instructional strategies and more.
Missouri, where less than half of 5th-year teachers continue to teach for a 6th year, is allocating $29.2 million for teacher training and recruitment and retention grants.
Oklahoma has reserved about $35 million to pay 50% or more of the salaries of 150 school counselors and 150 licensed mental health professionals. Currently the student-to-school-counselor ratio in the state is 411:1. The American School Counseling Association recommends a ratio of 250:1.
While responding to the immediate workforce needs is a priority, educators also are trying to plan for the long run. Concerns about a fiscal cliff after the ESSER funding is obligated and spent is weighing on administrators’ minds, they say.
Holdheide advises that school systems should always plan for sustainability no matter how the funds are spent. She also recommends districts and states collect data on the impact of their recruitment and retention efforts.
“By planning for sustainability and ensuring outcome data is collected, states and districts are providing the kind of evidence needed to demonstrate that whatever strategy selected and initiated is working and resulting in a stronger educator workforce,” she said.