Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Education Funding

Schools Can Use COVID-19 Relief Money for Vaccinations and Teacher Bonuses, Feds Say

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 26, 2021 3 min read
East Hartford High School senior Sudeen Pryce, right, center, receives support from classmate Alexia Phipps, left, East Hartford High School Intervention Coordinator Mark Brown, second from left, and EMT Katrinna Greene, top right, of Manchester, as RN Kaylee Cruz of Bristol administers the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to Pryce at a mass vaccination site at Pratt & Whitney Runway in East Hartford, Conn. on April 26, 2021.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School districts can use money from the American Rescue Plan and other COVID-19 aid packages to provide “premium pay” to educators—provided that it’s “reasonable” and consistent with federal and other requirements—as well as to prevent layoffs, new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education states.

The aid can also be used to pay for vaccinations, as well as outreach efforts related to the COVID-19 vaccines, the guidance document says.

The fact sheet released by the department on May 26 also says that state lawmakers cannot limit how districts use the biggest pot of money under those relief laws. But it does say that state education departments can restrict how much money districts can use on administration, as part of their oversight of specific portions of COVID-19 aid.

The department also says that relief money for school districts in three federal relief bills can be used to improve heating, ventilation, and other projects that would help schools’ air quality. “Renovation or remodeling activities that are necessary for an LEA to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 would be permissible,” the department says.

The document, which is designed to address frequently asked questions about coronavirus relief, comes as states and school districts make plans for how to use coronavirus relief money. Under three relief packages, K-12 schools have received close to $200 billion in direct aid, or nearly double what they received under the 2009 stimulus that Congress passed in response to the Great Recession.

The new Biden administration guidance, which is nonbinding, applies to the three relief bills signed into law in March 2020, December 2020, and March of this year. The guidance covers Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for use by state and local education agencies, as well as Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds.

The speed at which states have moved federal relief money along to districts has varied. Schools are dealing with significant turmoil and uncertainty when it comes to planning how to use coronavirus relief and planning their budgets in general. The pandemic has also had a notable impact on special education and infrastructure, among other big-ticket budget issues for school leaders.

Vaccinations, masks, coronavirus testing and more

The guidance says that the relief packages’ ESSER and GEER money can be used to provide COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible students and staff, as well as pay for coronavirus testing, personal protective equipment, and things like hand sanitizer and masks.

“Allowable vaccination outreach efforts in general could include activities to create awareness and build confidence, facilitate clinics, and provide incentives such as paid time off for staff to get vaccinated,” the guidance goes on to say.

The extent to which families will have their children in K-12 schools vaccinated against the coronavirus remains a major concern for educators. Although the vaccine is becoming increasingly available to school-age children, it’s unlikely states will require them to get the vaccine, experts have told Education Week.

Masking policies, meanwhile, have continued to be a knotty problem for education officials.

Governor’s relief funds can also be used for preschool services, according to the guidance, but governors aren’t required to spread the money around to all the entities, like districts and colleges and universities, that are eligible for the money.

When it comes to “premium pay” (such as teacher bonuses), the guidance says that relief funds can be used for that purpose “pursuant to an established plan.” It must also be “consistent with applicable collective bargaining agreements.” There’s debate about the effectiveness of offering bonuses to educators who might be ground down by the pandemic.

Lawmakers in at least one state, Florida, have agreed to provide one-time $1,000 bonuses to teachers and principals using federal coronavirus relief money for education.

The guidance also says that federal relief money can be used to provide job training, postsecondary counseling, and other services to students who graduated last year or are due to graduate this year but who “have not yet successfully transitioned to college or careers.”

That interpretation of the aid packages could be especially helpful to students in special education programs whose access to services was disrupted by the pandemic and who are close to aging out of them.


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding How Districts Should Spend Federal School Safety Money
Districts should focus on the mental health needs of students, according to a Center for American Progress report.
3 min read
Image of money setting gears into play.
Laura Baker/Education Week and taweesak petphuang/iStock/Getty
Education Funding Schools Need Billions More to Make Up for Lost Learning Time, Researchers Argue
The projected price tag far exceeds ESSER aid already provided to help students recover from the pandemic.
5 min read
A man standing on the edge of a one dollar bill that is folded downward to look like a funding cliff.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding EPA Doubles Aid for Electric, Natural Gas-Powered School Buses, Citing High Demand
The $965 million in funding helps schools replace existing diesel buses with zero- and low-emissions alternatives.
2 min read
A row of flat-front yellow school buses with green bumpers are parked in front of white electric charging units.
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet sits parked in front of charging stations.
Business Wire via AP
Education Funding Districts Steer Federal Teacher-Quality Funding Into Recruitment, Retention
Efforts to recruit teachers and create "grow your own" programs are in; class-size reduction and teacher evaluation are out.
5 min read
Blurred view of the back of students in a classroom with their hands raised answering to a female teacher