As schools are nearing the halfway point of the first post-pandemic semester, districts are still battling an issue that existed long before COVID: teacher shortages.

Made-up political controversies and far-from-desirable wages and working conditions are driving teachers out of the profession, experts say. But some of the nation’s largest districts are supporting teachers by using ESSR COVID relief funds to raise pay and attract the employees they need.

Among districts that are empowering their teachers with these funds, how are the resources being distributed? A new report from FutureEd, an education think tank, analyzes the spending plans of 5,000 school districts and charter organizations across the country, representing 74% of U.S. public school students. It also looks at how the 100 largest school districts plan to use their ESSR funds to support their teachers. Here’s what the report found:

Professional Development

More than 80% of these districts report investing in professional development and equipping educators with valuable skills and knowledge.

“Among the 100 largest school districts, 82 plan to use the federal aid to train teachers on such topics as evidence-based instructional approaches, family engagement strategies, and new technology platforms,” the report says.

Additionally, 35 districts plan to use their funding on literary-specific training, “including a significant focus on evidence-based practices associated with the ‘science of reading,’” according to the report.

Other areas of training include:

  • General: 55
  • Other academic training: 47
  • SEL or mental health: 36
  • Special ed or ELL: 17
  • Equity or diversity: 12
  • Technology: 12

Hiring and paying teachers

Sixty-five percent of districts plan to provide their educators with increased salaries and benefits. In addition to these plans, districts report intent to hire math or reading specialists for targeted instruction, smaller classroom sizes and hiring more teachers.

According to the data, most districts are prioritizing hiring specialists:

  • Interventionists/specialists: 39
  • Core teachers: 30
  • ELL and special ed teachers and staff: 14
  • Virtual teachers: 13

Additional pay and stipends

Fewer districts are investing in supplemental pay for the extra work teachers are doing as a result of a lack in teachers or to help students recover. Only 33% of districts are using ESSER funding to pay teachers for working additional hours.

Yet, including extra learning time in the budget has been met with resistance. According to the report, the United Teachers Los Angeles voted to boycott the first learning day planned in October, although the Los Angeles Unified School District budgeted $122 million to create three additional days of professional development and four extra days of learning for students. The union described it as a “waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Here’s how districts are allocating these funds in this area:

  • Offering extra pay for extended hours: 21
  • Tutoring: 6
  • Teaching additional periods of the day: 5
  • Curriculum development/planning time: 5

Retention and recruitment

One of the most important issues schools continue to target is recruiting and retaining their teachers. The common ways districts are doing this is by providing bonuses and pouring into the teacher pipeline:

  • Offering bonuses: 31
  • Bonuses for special education, ELL, specific subjects, hard-to-staff schools or effective teachers: 15
  • Investing in teacher pipelines, including grow-your-own programs and residencies: 15

Schools have at least two more years to spend their COVID relief funds, the report explains. “Determining which interventions have worked the best—which Covid-relief bets to double down on post-academic recovery—will be a key task of education policymaking at all levels in the years ahead,” the report concludes.