SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education rushed to spend $10 million in bonuses for teachers and other school personnel who have picked up extra work because of staffing issues and COVID-19.
The money, doled out in $100 increments for educators based on how much extra work they did, was allocated by the Utah State Legislature this year as a "thank you" for work in challenging circumstances.
"There’s a message behind it, saying 'thank you' from the legislature," said Dr. Sydnee Dickson, the state superintendent of public instruction. "Thank you, we hear you, we recognize you and we know you have a lot of burdens."
The extra money is welcome, said Jay Blain with the Utah Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union. The money was allocated for teachers who substituted for others when there was no substitute available. Utah has struggled to find substitute teachers recently.
"Teachers are still making extraordinary efforts and are very tired and very worn out. They’re doing the best they can under the situation," Blain said.
The state board of education fast tracked the vote on the funding in order to ensure that it was in educators' paychecks before the end of the school year. State school board members also fast tracked a vote to implement an expansion of all-day kindergarten.
The legislature passed a bill to give children the option of half-day or all-day kindergarten. It received large support on Capitol Hill.
"Only 30% of our students have had access to full-day K," Dr. Dickson said. "Unlike other states, in fact most other states, 80% of students have had access to full-day K."
However, because the legislature only partially funded the program at a cost of $12 million, it will be prioritized based on socioeconomic status of students, geography and whether a school district has the space for it. Districts must also apply to the state for the expansion.