K-12 Federal Funding Update: ESSER provides funds to combat learning loss

Pencil
By Julia Ramsey

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 is set to provide significant boosts to available K-12 federal funds, with the most significant increase coming in the form of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II, a $54 billion successor to last March’s initial version of the bill.

In addition to ESSER, the Act also increases funds for Title I and IDEA programming. Also supported are Title II and IV, plus after-school programming, career & technical education, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.

What does this mean for my district?

  1. The average school district will receive a funding increase of approximately $1000 per student, or approximately 8% overall, depending on state.
  2. Funds flow via the Title I formula, meaning higher-poverty districts (those serving more students eligible for free or reduced lunch) will generally receive more ESSER monies per pupil. 
  3. The funds themselves are not subject to Title I rules. Spending is highly flexible, as long as it addresses learning loss and/or COVID-19 response.
  4. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will receive no less than 90% of allocated ESSER funds, with the remaining 10% going to State Education Agency (SEA) discretion and/or administration costs.
  5. LEAs not eligible for Title I will not receive any of the 90% portion. However, SEAs may choose to allocate discretionary funds that don’t meet Title I criteria. 
  6. ESSER funds must be spent by September 2023, so funds can be stretched across four school years.
  7. There are no requirements for districts to be in-person in order to receive funds.

What happens when the money runs out?
For school districts, the prudent plan is to avoid large expenses that will result in a “fiscal cliff” once the funds are exhausted. Large recurring expenses such as raises or new hires should be avoided in favor of contracting and other variable spending that can be adjusted annually.

Does ESSER provide for professional learning?
Yes! ESSER funds are flexible and not bound by Title I rules, so they can be used for any programming or activities that address learning loss and/or respond to COVID-19. In professional learning, this could include things like:

How does the government track fund usage?
ESSER includes robust reporting requirements, and large expenditures of this size draw scrutiny from both overseers and the public. Districts will have to account carefully for funding outcomes, with specific emphasis on how the money addressed learning loss.

Ready to find out more? Click here for a rundown of available federal funding for teacher PD.

From the blog