What You Need to Know About the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund

Here at Cameyo we work with over 50 school districts to help them enable distance & hybrid learning while eliminating the cost of PC labs by giving students access to all of their critical applications on any device, from the browser. Below is a quick reference guide we created to help provide details on the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund). If there is anything we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to contact [email protected] or schedule a demo here

What is the ESSER Fund?

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) was established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the CARES Act, with the goal of helping address the impact that COVID-19 has had on elementary and secondary schools across the Nation. Under the ESSER Fund, state educational agencies (SEAs) will award subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs) to help fund the programs needed to ensure students can still learn effectively regardless of whether they are learning at home or in the classroom. This blog post discusses the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund as it will be implemented by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). 

The ESSER Fund will be a great asset for states that receive a COVID-19 waiver, supporting states in developing a plan to prevent the erosion of the academic achievement of students and providing guidance in developing strategies and tools to prevent and respond to the possible closing and consolidation of schools and districts during a period of crisis.

Background on the ESSER Fund

The original set of ESSER funds was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or CARES Act, which was passed in March of 2020. That set aside $13.5 billion to be spent on elementary and secondary school emergency relief, thus creating the ESSER fund.

Then on December 27, 2020 Congress passed The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA). This allocated an additional $54.3 billion for ESSER and is called the ESSER II fund.

Most recently the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was passed by Congress in March of 2021. This added another $123 billion to the ESSER funding and is now known as the ESSER III fund.

What is the timeline for the utilization of ESSER funds?

There is a very specific timeline of when the funding from the CARES Act, CRSSA, and ARP must be utilized.

According to the Department of Education, ESSER, ESSER II, and ESSER III funding, “May be used for pre-award costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared.” Funding from ESSER is available to be distributed from May 11, 2020, to September 30, 2021. The timeframe for ESSER II is March 15, 2021, through September 30, 2022. For ESSER III, the period is May 24, 2021, through September 30, 2023.

How can ESSER funds be utilized?

Each of the funding bills clearly stipulate how school emergency relief funds are to be spent. The CARES Act notes that allowable uses are “preventing, preparing for and responding to COVID-19.” In addition, ESSER funds (including ESSER II and ESSER III funds) can be utilized for: “hiring new staff and avoiding layoffs and developing strategies and implementing public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with CDC guidance for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators and other staff.”

When CRSSA was signed into law, more guidance was offered on how ESSER II was to be spent. These uses include addressing learning loss, preparing schools for reopening, and testing, repairing, and upgrading projects to improve air quality in school buildings.

With ESSER III, the government added “…not less than 20% of its total ARP ESSER allocation to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs and ensure that such interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student groups.” Note that the other 80% is available to be used for the same uses in ESSER and ESSER II.

Unique to ESSER III, the U.S. Department of Education set aside $800 million to identify and support homeless children and youth. The school emergency relief funds are to provide these children “comprehensive, wrap-around services that address needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and allow them to attend school and participate fully in all school activities.”

What are the funding distribution restrictions for this program?

Funds are provided to State educational agencies and school districts to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nation’s students. ARP ESSER Fund awards to SEAs are in the same proportion as each State received funds under Part A of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, in fiscal year 2020.

Who is eligible for the ESSER Fund?

Any elementary and secondary school who needs financial assistance due to a natural or man-made disaster is eligible for the ESSER Fund. And this applies to the COVID-19 pandemic as well. A school will be eligible for the ESSER Fund if they can demonstrate need and if they don’t have any other competing sources of funding. 

How are ESSER funds distributed to schools?

ESSER funds go through several channels before they get to elementary and secondary schools (including charter schools)

First, funds are transferred to state educational agencies (SEAs). The SEAs from each state “apply directly to the Department [of Education] for ESSER Funds. The SEA is the agency primarily responsible for the state supervision of public elementary schools and secondary schools.”

Charter schools that are part of an LEA may receive subgrants from ESSER just like other elementary and secondary schools. As noted, “A charter school that is not an LEA may not receive a formula subgrant, but it may receive support under ESSER through the LEA of which it is a part.” SEAs then award subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs) that represent school districts.

If ESSER funds are not awarded within the one-year deadline, the SEA’s are required to return the money to the U.S. Department of Education as noted in the CARES Act.

LEAs have flexibility in how they allocate the funds to those that are part of its school district, but its worth noting that the U.S. Department of Education encourages them to target activities that support remote learning for every student, particularly those students who are disadvantaged or are at-risk students.

ESSER funds are available to every school in each district, regardless of its Title I, Part A status. In addition, Title I, Part A requirements are not relevant to funding from ESSER.

Despite the relatively free reign in spending ESSER, ESSER II, and ESSER III funds, the Department of Education is monitoring how the money is being spent. The funds may also be audited to ensure the money was spent in a suitable manner. These funds are to be tracked, and “LEAs are required to complete and submit CARES Act Performance Reports throughout the project period.”

To learn more about how school districts are utilizing Cameyo to help enable remote, distance, and hybrid learning, check out this case study of Baldwinsville Central School District, Community High School District 99 (CSD99), or Homer Central School District. You can also get started with a free trial, or schedule a demo to have one of our team members walk you through a personalized demo.