ATLANTA — More money is on the way for teachers in Georgia, but some will get more from their district.
State leaders have written a $2,000 bonus for k-12 employees into the budget in attempts to address teacher turnover.
A National Education Association survey released last month found a record 55% of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they’d planned.
In addition, 86% reported they have seen more educators leaving the profession or retiring early since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
“We're in crisis right now," said Bejanae Kareem, founder of BK International Education consultancy.
Kareem is a former classroom teacher and says she now uses that experience to help other teachers write and apply for grants.
"Educators are at a breaking point," she explained. "We're compromising education. There definitely needs to be more support if we want to retain talent here in our state of Georgia.”
Kareem added that the $2,000 bonus is a step in the right direction.
“It's a starting point, but it can not cover what's back due to educators," she said.
Crystal Perry, an educator of 21 years founded Melanated PEARL, a community change advocacy group that provides professional development programs for educators. She said one of the big reasons she left the classroom was the low pay she and her coworkers experienced.
"These people have, some, up to master's degrees, have a full time job and are not able to pay their monthly bills," Perry explained. "We've created a program, our Mother of PEARL Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance, in which we have had to service several teachers, paraprofessionals and substitutes throughout the pandemic because of loss of income."
However, other educators point out a $2,000 bonus won't go far.
“Especially now with inflation and costs rising, how long does that $2,000 stretch?” said Josette Hutton Evans, founder of Metamorphosis Powerhouse Company, a nonprofit focused on education equity.
"One of the great things that we can do as a thank you to teachers is to make sure that we are adequately supporting them in the ways that they need," she said, "not only do their jobs, but do their jobs in ways that aid and assist them to be their best selves so that they can pour into children to be their best selves."
Some local districts are taking extra measures to retain and recruit employees. This week Clayton County schools approved an additional $2,000 bonus for all part and full-time employees.
Meanwhile, Atlanta Public Schools submitted a proposal to the Atlanta Board of Education during a Budget Commission meeting last week to implement a $2,000 increase to each salary level and provide all employees a step increase on the teacher salary schedule.
If the plan is approved, starting pay could be $51,048, the second-highest salary in the Metro Atlanta area.
"APS will go above and beyond the positions listed as eligible by the State by providing one-time $2,000 payments to all full-time staff and $1,000 payments to all part-time (hourly) staff and substitutes who have worked the equivalent of 10 days this school year by April 1, 2022," explained an APS spokesperson.
Those payments will be disbursed on May 15, 2022.
Fulton County Schools also recently implemented several incentive programs, including:
- $2-$7,500 signing bonuses for a range of positions, from paraprofessionals to behavior interventionists to full-time classroom teachers
- Retention incentives of $1,200-$2,500 for classroom teachers
- Daily supplements ranging from $250 to $300 for additional preplanning days
- $375 daily supplement for additional summer planning days
Superintendent Chris Ragsdale of Cobb County School District said all permanent, full and part-time employees would receive a $2,000 bonus, on Thursday. The district said in a release that the payments would come in their April payroll.
“Some of the things that we're seeing that some districts are doing just to incentivize folks to stay or actually apply is a step in the right direction," Evans said.
Advocates are also pushing for more PTO, tax credits for out-of-pocket costs, and better access to mental health recourses.
“We're hearing from teachers that they've been wearing multiple hats over the last two and a half years," explained Claire Suggs, Senior Legislative Policy Analyst at the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE). "They're building our future but they're they're feeling pretty stretched thin."
Suggs said pay concerns could have an impact on the future of the profession.
"We may see shortages in more areas and in more communities," she added. "And on the other side, what does this mean for how attractive the profession might be for young people who would be considering going into teaching?"
For many teachers, efforts by the legislature and local districts to retain and recruit are encouraging. Whether it's enough is still to be seen.
“Simply put, if teachers are in a position to thrive or have the conditions to thrive, students will thrive as well," Kareem said. "And that's for the best for all of Georgia.”