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A regular update from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown’s McCourt School. 
By Chad Aldeman
Much of the public discussion around teacher pay focuses on averages. How high are they? How do they compare to other professions or the neighboring city or state? 
 
But lost amidst the conversation around averages are problems with the underlying structures of teacher compensation. That’s noteworthy, as the structure of teacher pay has been remarkably resistant to change over the decades. 
But then along came 2021, and many districts embraced new pay structures for the first time. In a report released this week, Katherine Silberstein and I look at a wave of innovative compensation strategies that districts have adopted over the last 18 months. These include private-sector hiring and retention bonuses, workload stipends, and targeted payments to address specific shortage areas. These initiatives are also financially responsible in that they use temporary funds in time-limited ways, rather than adding to long-term obligations with permanent commitments.
Beyond the pandemic era, these types of approaches could pave the way for savvier, more nimble teacher compensation packages that move beyond the rigid, one-size-fits-all teacher salary schedules that most districts continue to rely on.  
Everyone wants to know: How are school districts spending $190 billion in federal relief funds? 
 
In a 30-minute webinar this week, we tried to pull back the curtain on how school districts are spending their share of the federal ESSER funds. The federal government has reasonably current data on spenddown rates, aka how fast districts are spending their money. But they are already facing data quality issues when it comes to collecting systematic data on what the money actually bought. 
States and districts are trying to fill in the gaps, but those efforts vary in quality. They also suffer from a lack of agreement on what should be tracked. Without clear direction or agreement on how to categorize different types of spending, the biggest spending category we’ve seen so far is the catch-all bucket of “other.” 
 
In a glaring omission, ESSER tracking efforts are often disconnected from the one thing that matters the most: outcomes for students. Is the money helping kids get back on track in reading and math? Are they on pace to graduate? Are they even showing up to school?!
 
For a closer look at what we see as the key data challenges, our ideas for potential solutions, and our picks for the best state and local transparency efforts so far, download the slides from the webinar, or watch the video replay
Here’s an idea: Districts can use a share of their relief dollars to pay families to help get students and schools back on track. 
 
In a new piece for Forbes, Marguerite shares that writing checks to families might sound like a radical idea for districts that are more accustomed to hiring staff or building programs, but research suggests payments can work, if they’re structured well. 
 
While writing checks to parents goes against the grain for most districts, we’re now seeing districts pay parents to take their children to school, to complete summer courses, to purchase their own school supplies or technology, to get vaccinated, or to tutor younger students. With a tight labor market and cash available to try new things, there’s nothing stopping districts from looking to their students and families for help to get things done. And, these moves offer districts another way to partner with and engage students and parents.
As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with insights or suggestions: Chad.Aldeman@georgetown.edu
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Edunomics Lab is a Georgetown University research center exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions to inform education policy and practice.
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