ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds that were part of The American Rescue Plan Act passed on March 11, 2021, provided $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, known as the ESSER III.
The funds allocated to local districts are meant to be flexible. Federal guidance outlines 20 different uses for ESSER III funds, and we know that districts must spend at least 20% of these funds to address learning loss.
In general, districts can use the money for any expense seen as necessary to address the pandemic’s impacts. The Department of Education encourages states and districts to consider “pre-existing challenges that, if left unaddressed, will impede recovery from the pandemic.”
So, how have districts across the country spent their funds?
1. Academic interventions
2. Hiring teachers and staff
3. Facility upgrades
5. Mental health services
6. Other COVID mitigation strategies
High-quality professionals, such as teachers, tutors, counselors, and mental health professionals, face intense demand for their services. Districts that often compete against each other for educators now compete with the mental health system for mental health professionals.
Continued labor shortages and supply chain issues have created significant challenges for ESSER spending. For example, a school district that hoped to upgrade its HVAC system or complete other construction projects.
Inflation has also been an obstacle, and the prices of goods and services have prompted some districts to adjust their initial spending plans.
In May of 2022, it was clarified that school districts could apply to extend the spending deadline for all contracts and all three rounds of aid. Schools have until this September to “obligate” funds or commit them to specific purposes from the first round of federal COVID relief, ESSER I. The deadline to commit the second round of funds, ESSER II, is September 2023, and ESSER III is September 2024.
While the clock is ticking for school districts to obligate their access funds, what happens when ESSER funds are no longer available?
School districts must be creative with their budgets as students and their individual needs aren’t going anywhere in 2024-2025. InThe additional professionals needed for academic intervention and mental health will be required then, as it is now. It is time to find the opportunity within this impending change. It’s there; the good news is we have some time to plan accordingly.
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