How Can Your School Use ESSER III Funds?

ESSER funding has been a hot topic lately, and for good reason. These funds have been, and continue to be, critical in helping schools and districts navigate the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with the ESSER III allocation deadline coming on September 30th 2024, state and district leaders are racing against the clock to ensure all their funds are appropriately allocated and used.

What Are ESSER Funds?

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund is a multi-billion-dollar program established by the U.S. government to support schools affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ESSER program was rolled out in three phases, each backed by different legislative acts, to address the evolving needs of schools during the pandemic.

  • CARES Act (ESSER I): The first round of funding was provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020. It allocated $13.2 billion to support elementary and secondary schools in mitigating the impact of COVID-19. 
  • CRRSA Act (ESSER II): The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act was signed into law on December 27, 2020. It added $54.3 billion to the ESSER fund to further support schools as the pandemic persisted.
  • ARP Act (ESSER III): The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, signed on March 11, 2021, provided the third and largest round of funding, with $122 billion allocated to help schools safely reopen and address the impacts of the pandemic.

How Are ESSER Funds Distributed?

ESSER funds are distributed to states based on a formula similar to the one used in Title I funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This formula considers two main factors:

  • Student Enrollment: School districts with higher student populations receive a larger share of the funds.
  • Needs Index: Factors like poverty levels are taken into account to ensure schools with higher needs receive more resources.

Once states receive the ESSER funds, they distribute them to local education agencies (LEAs), which typically include school districts. LEAs are responsible for allocating the funds within their jurisdictions.

What Can ESSER Funds Be Used For?

ESSER funds are used for a wide range of activities, provided they are in response to issues caused by the pandemic and comply with federal guidelines.

Allowable uses of ESSER funds include:

  • Implementing evidence-based interventions to address learning loss, such as summer learning programs, after school programs, or extended day programs
  • Investing in education technology like software or devices to support remote or hybrid learning
  • Hiring additional teachers or instructional staff to reduce class size and provide more individualized support
  • Implementing programs and resources to support students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs
  • Funding for counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals
  • Professional development for teachers and staff on how to address learning loss and use technology in the classroom
  • Supporting activities allowed under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (which aims to close the achievement gap), the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act or Perkins V (which supports careers and technical education programs), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA (which provides children with disabilities access to free appropriate public education)

In addition to the allowable uses mentioned above, ESSER III places a greater emphasis on supporting underserved student groups. Districts need to ensure the ARP funds for schools address the specific needs of students who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

ESSER funds cannot be used for general expenses or activities not related to addressing problems that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Are States and Districts Required to Reserve Any of the Funding?

Yes, the ARP Act requires state and local agencies to reserve portions of their ESSER III funding for particular purposes related to pandemic learning loss.

States must reserve:

  • 5% of their total ARP ESSER III funding for evidence-based interventions for addressing learning loss
  • 1% for evidence-based summer enrichment programs
  • 1% for evidence-based after school programs

Districts must reserve:At least 20% of their ARP ESSER funding to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions that cater to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs

When Do ESSER Funds Expire?

While the expiration dates for ESSER I and II have passed, the ESSER III fund expiration date is coming up soon.

  • ESSER I funds deadline: September 30, 2022
  • ESSER II funds deadline: September 30, 2023
  • ESSER III funds deadline: September 30, 2024

How Much ESSER Funding Is Left?

According to the latest federal report released in late 2023, approximately 26% of the ESSER III funding still remains. This equates to about $31 billion. Research by Whiteboard Advisors indicates that some states, like New York, Vermont, and Wyoming, have more than 30% of funds remaining. Meanwhile, other states, like Washington, Arkansas, and Iowa, have less than 20% remaining. Take a look at this infographic from Whiteboard Advisors to see how much ESSER funding is left by state.

Can Districts Still Use Their ESSER Funds After the Deadline?

Yes, districts can use their ESSER funds after the September deadline, under specific federal guidelines. Here’s how it works:

Federal guidance allows for contracted activities to continue after the ESSER funds deadline, provided that the contracts are signed and paid for before then. This means that districts can enter into multi-year contracts now and continue to receive services even after September 30, 2024.

However, there are important restrictions:

  • No services may extend beyond four years. For ESSER III, this means services cannot extend beyond September 30, 2028.
  • School officials must determine that the extension is necessary, reasonable, and does not threaten good grand management.

Can I Still Use My ESSER Funds?

With just four months until the September deadline, you may be wondering, are ESSER funds still available? The good news is yes, they are, and you still have time to use them. However, there is no time to delay. ESSER funds expire very soon. Now is the perfect time to invest in an evidence-based educational software solution like Progress Learning that can address and target learning loss.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting students, especially those who are underserved and low-income. Ensure your students fully recover with a solution that truly works. Don’t let your ESSER funding go to waste — use it before you lose it!

Request a quote from Progress Learning today to see how your remaining ESSER III funds can be used on a software solution to help students recover from pandemic related learning loss.

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