ESSER funding for school districts

As schools around the U.S. continue to adapt amid the pandemic, a wealth of resources is being shared and distributed to support the return of a new normal to America’s education system. 

However, what the new normal looks like is unclear as each state, county, and district can have conflicting agendas. School districts, administration, teachers, and students all suffered setbacks from the two-year ordeal. Schools adapted in diverse ways with some shutting down completely, others going fully virtual, some adhering to a hybrid approach, and others continuing as usual once initial safety measures were lifted. 

The result remains the same: Schools need help. 

Government Assistance 

Since the pandemic was such an unusual and unpredictable situation, the United States government quickly devised plans to enable American schools to continue educating students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The U.S. Legislature passed the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), which gives supplemental financial support to school districts to counteract the effects of the pandemic and learning loss. Over $190 billion has been pledged to districts and schools across the country to help combat the impact of COVID. 

How ESSER Works  

ESSER and its supplemental funding sources are meant to provide districts with a broad approach to reducing learning loss caused by the pandemic, increasing administrative capacity, and prioritizing social-and-emotional wellness among students, educators, and families. 

The U.S. government passed a few different rounds of supplemental ESSER funding at various stages of the pandemic, which include: 

  • ESSER I: On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act 2021 (CARES) set aside $13.2 billion for State educational agencies (SEAs) to provide emergency relief to local educational agencies (LEAs). 
  • ESSER II: The Coronavirus Response and Relief, and Supplemental Appropriations Act 2021 (CRSSA) was signed into law on December 20, 2020 and added another $54.3 billion to the ESSER fund. 
  • ARP ESSER: The American Rescue Plan (ARP) was enacted by Congress on Thursday, March 11, 2021. The $1.9 trillion package included an additional $122 billion for ESSER, bringing the total quantity of relief funding to over $190 billion. 

ESSER Eligibility and Requirements 

Funds are allocated based on the same proportion of funds that states are entitled to through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title-IA each year. An option is also available to reserve 10% of the ESSER funding for ongoing issues in the state related to the pandemic. SEAs and LEAs must follow certain regulations when applying for and accepting these grants to stay eligible for their usage. For example, 5% of the funding must address learning loss, and 1% each can be used for afterschool activities and for summer learning programs. A more detailed account of funding allocation and eligibility can be found on the ESSER Funding FAQ Sheet

Deadlines were established for each release of ESSER funding. While most deadlines have already passed, September 22, 2022, remains important as it is the last date SEAs, LEAs, or other subgrantees can obligate funds.  

Awarding Versus Obligating 

Obligating funds for your district is different than awarding funds. ESSER funds can be obligated when the subrecipient commits those funds to specific purposes that align with the funds the SEAs award them. In other words, if you haven’t decided how to spend your ESSER funding yet, the clock is ticking, and if you don’t act fast, you may lose the funding. 

Examples of How to Spend Your ESSER Funds 

There are many programs and initiatives available for funding obligations that meet the required mandates put in place. One such overlooked funding option is in the field of Career and Technical Education (CTE). Many schools and districts are unaware or confused about how ESSER funds can be spent on CTE. 

One example of a district that is leveraging ESSER funding for the betterment of its CTE program is Carter County Schools in Tennessee. Carter County Schools, a Kuder partner since 2003, used the additional federal funds to expand their postsecondary planning program to encompass a wider range of Kuder products. This included the onboarding of Kuder Galaxy to Carter County’s career readiness offerings to help engage and excite elementary school students about the world of work. 

According to the ESSER/GEER FAQ Sheet, some examples of CTE initiatives that ESSER funding can be obligated toward include:  

  • Updating the comprehensive local needs assessment required by section 134(c) of Perkins V to reflect changes in the labor market caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Adjusting curriculum to account for the academic impact of lost instructional time or to cover technical skills that could not be addressed during remote instruction. 
  • Providing professional development on the delivery of remote classroom instruction and virtual or remote work-based learning opportunities. 
  • Purchasing remote test-proctoring services so that students can participate remotely in assessments for industry-recognized credentials. 
  • Supporting students who graduated high school in the class of 2020 and in the class of 2021 (i.e., during the pandemic) but have not yet successfully transitioned to college or careers by providing, for example, college or career counseling, assistance with college applications, entry into job training programs, and financial literacy programming. 

There are of course many other outstanding options when it comes to a district's choice on how it will obligate available ESSER funds, though you will want to be sure to make these decisions in the near future as the deadline of September 22, 2022, continues drawing closer. If you would like to see if Kuder’s solution set of college and career readiness systems coincides with your district’s needs, please reach out to us

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About The Author

Kelsey Davis

Kelsey Davis is an experienced content creation specialist who leverages her many years of well-crafted copywriting expertise to develop, manage, and promote exemplary content on behalf of Kuder, Inc.

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