Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund

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The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, better known as ESSER fund, is the government response to education agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and District of Columbia due to COVID. The ESSER fund was established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the CARES Act passed in March 2020.

The Education Stabilization Fund included a whopping $30.75 billion in funds which were distributed for several educational purposes. The funding was broken down into the following 3 categories:

The Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) fund received 9.8% of the funding, or $2,953,230,00 distributed to governors to be spent as seen fit to meet the needs of students and schools K-12, colleges/universities, and other education-related entities.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I) funds received 43.9% of the funding, or $13,229,265,000 to be used directly by State Education Agencies (SEAs) based on Title 1 proportions.

 The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) received 46.3% of the funding, or $13,952,505,000 to be used directly for colleges and universities.

In addition to these funds, On December 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) was signed into law. The stimulus package included an additional $54,311,004,000. This funding came to be known as ESSER Funds II. 

Following the CRRSAA, the American Rescue Plan Act was passed on March 11, 2021, providing an additional $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding. This supplemental funding became known as the ESSER III fund. ESSER III requires SEAs to reserve 5% of funds to address learning loss, 1% for afterschool activities, and 1% for summer learning programs. LEAs must reserve at least 20% of ESSER III funding to address learning losses. Two-thirds of ESSER III funds were made immediately available to states, while the remaining funds will be made available only after states submit their ESSER implementation plans.

If you are wondering, where do these funds go? How does it benefit you or your students? How long will these funds be available? Dig into the details of ESSER funds!

Who is eligible to receive esser funds?

The US Department of Education awards ESSER funds to all K-12 State Education Agencies (SEAs).  SEAs are to then distribute these emergency relief funds to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), including charter schools, to help with the impact that Covid-19 has left behind for schools. All ESSER funds were awarded to states based on the proportion of funding each state received under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended in fiscal year 2020.

The following diagram depicts how funds are funneled down to LEAs.

How much does each state receive?

Every SEA must use at least 90% of its total ESSER Funds to make sub grants to LEAs. According to the CARES Act  here is the methodology used for calculating allocation of ESSER Funds:

Section 18001(b) of the CARES Act requires the Department of Education (Department), after reserving 2 percent of the $30.75 billion appropriated for the Education Stabilization fund for the Outlying Areas

(1/2 of 1 percent), the Bureau of Indian Education at the Department of the Interior (1/2 of 1 percent), and competitive awards to States with the highest coronavirus burden (1 percent), to reserve 43.9 percent of remaining funds, or $13,229,265,000, for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) authorized under section 18003 of the CARES Act.

Section 18003(b) of the CARES Act requires the Department to allocate the ESSER Fund based on the proportion that each State received under Title I, Part A in the most recent fiscal year. However, section 1122(c)(3) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) prohibits the Department from considering the Title I, Part A hold harmless provisions in ESEA section 1122 in calculating State or local allocations for any other program administered by the Secretary, including the ESSER Fund.

Therefore, to determine the ESSER Fund allocations, the Department used the fiscal year 2019 State shares of Title I, Part A allocations without the application of the hold harmless provisions in ESEA section 1122.

You can find the breakdown of all ESSER funds allocated for your state under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Tracker.

ESSER Application

The ESSER Application Process entails for each State Education Agencies in the 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia to apply directly to the Department of Education for ESSER funds. Then, school districts or LEAs must apply to their corresponding SEA for funds. As mentioned before every LEA that applies for funds will be granted a percentage of the funds according to the formula based on the Fiscal Year 2019 Title I, Part A allocations.

You can find the breakdown of funds per school district under your State Educational Agency website. 

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund

What can ESSER funds be used for?

Now that we have seen how funds are allocated per SEAs and LEAs, we can dive into how these funds can be used. Each ESSER funding has different requirements as to how it can be spent.

For ESSER and ESSER II funds district leaders have broad authority over the use of funds. LEAs may use their funds for any activity allowed under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):

  • Title I-A, Title I-C (Migrant Education) 
  • Title I-D (Neglected and Delinquent Students) 
  • Title II-A, Title III-A (English Language Learners) 
  • Title IV-A 
  • Title IV-B 21st Century Community Learning Centers 
  • Title V-B REAP (SRSA and RLIS) 
  • Title VI-A (Indian Education) 
  • Title VII (Impact Aid)

Also included is any activity allowed under the following federal education acts:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act)
  • McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act
  • Adult Education and Family Literacy Act
  • Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Educational Equity, Support, and Assistance Act

ESSER II guidelines included that the usage of funds can be used to close equity and student learning loss gaps by supporting any of the following activities:

  • Activities authorized under the Adult Family and Literacy Act
  • Activities to address the unique needs of English learners
  • Purchasing education technology for students
  • Providing online learning
  • Implementing summer learning and after school programs

According to the US Department of Education , ESSER III funds may be used for the following resources:

  • Purchase of suggested Center for Disease Control (CDC) safety equipment for in-person learning 
  • Improve ventilation and purchase personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Purchase additional space to ensure social distancing in classrooms
  • Avoid layoffs and hire additional educators to address learning losses and facilitate social distancing
  • Implement strategies to meet social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs 
  • Fund enrichment, summer and afterschool programs
  • Hire nurses and custodial staff 
  • Purchase bus safety protocol equipment
  • Purchase Wi-Fi hotspots for students without home connectivity for remote learning
  • Additional uses as allowed in the statute

What is the timeline for awarding ESSER funds?

All SEAs have one year from the date the ESSER award was issued to them to award funds to LEAs. If any funds are not awarded by the end of that year period those funds will be returned to the U.S. Department of Education to be reallocated to other states. According to the latest ARP Fund Fact Sheet the following are ESSER Fund award deadlines:

ESSER I funds are available for obligation by State educational agencies and subrecipients through September 30, 2021. SEA must award the funds within one year of receiving them, which will be April through June 2021, depending on an SEA’s award date.

ESSER II funds are available for obligation by SEAs and subrecipients through September 30, 2022. An SEA must award the funds within one year of receiving them, which will be January 2022.

ESSER III funds with respect to making local educational agency (LEA) subgrants (90% of the total ARP ESSER allocation), the SEA must allocate ARP ESSER funds in an expedited and timely manner and, to the extent practicable, not later than 60 days after the SEA receives those funds. An SEA must award ARP ESSER funds not allocated to LEAs within one year of the date the SEA receives those funds.

The CARES Act, CRRSAA, and ARP Act combined provide nearly $190 billion in aid for SEAs and LEAs in the U.S. This magnitude of aid will provide much needed support to close student learning gaps in all demographics and improve equity among students across the states. As educators and school leaders you are a key part in providing your district with information on student needs. Reach out to your school and district leaders to get more information on ESSER Funds. Communicate to leaders any suggestions you may have that will help your students stay safe and help them succeed academically. Despite the difficulties and challenges that have been presented due to this global pandemic you can still make a difference.

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