Policy & Funding

Feds Offer Guidance on Use of COVID-19 Relief Funding

The U.S. Department of Education has released guidance on how ESSER and GEER relief funding may be spent. There are few limits on how schools can spend the money allocated through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, including the American Rescue Plan ESSER (ARP ESSER) program and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. The big caveat: There needs to be a link to helping students, educators, staff and families emerge from the impacts of COVID-19. Among the findings contained in the 61-page frequently-asked questions document are these nuggets:

  • ARP ESSER — the third and latest ESSER — requires that school districts receiving funds develop and publish a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services within 30 days of receipt of the money. The district needs to seek public comment before the plan is made publicly available.

  • At least 20% of the ARP ESSER allocation needs to address learning loss and, specifically, "the academic impact of lost instructional time through the implementation of evidence-based interventions." That could be summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day sessions, after-school programs or extended school year programs.

  • Districts need to ensure maintenance of equity for high-poverty schools: No reducing state or local per-pupil funding; and no reducing employee headcount.

  • States can't legislate controls or place limits on how districts use their ESSER funds. Nor can they reduce their own funding of education.

  • State education agencies (SEAs) may choose (or not) to keep up to 10% of ESSER I and ESSER II funds for emergency needs that have resulted from the pandemic. But SEAs are required under ARP ESSER to put aside a portion of funds to cover the expenses related to overseeing districts activities related to learning loss and summer enrichment programs and after-school programs.

On the technology front, specifically, the FAQ highlighted that funding could be used to purchase educational technology, including hardware, software and connectivity, as long as it's intended for helping students with their education. Also encouraged: the use of ESSER and GEER funds to improve cybersecurity.

The guidance has promoted the use of funds for "innovation" in teaching and learning, which needs to be evidence-based and intended to address lost instructional time.

The report stated that funding could also be applied to improvements in data systems, including data collection activities and creation of data dashboards intended to provide public reporting. The FAQ specifically mentioned these types of data that could be tracked through such a dashboard, with an emphasis that the information be broken out "to the greatest extent possible" by race/ethnicity, economic status, English learner status, disability status and homelessness status:

  • Instructional offerings by modality, face-to-face versus remote versus hybrid;

  • Student enrollment rates by school and by instructional modality;

  • Student attendance rates by school and by instructional modality;

  • Chronic absenteeism rates by school and by instructional modality;

  • Rate of student participation logging into remote learning for students in fully remote or hybrid learning environments by school;

  • Average number of hours of live instruction by grade span by school by month;

  • A measure of students and teachers with adequate technology (devices and high-speed internet access) for remote instruction;

  • Student learning across multiple measures, including assessments; and

  • Discipline rates; access to advanced coursework; teacher turnover and credentials; and access to guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses.

The report is openly available through the U.S. Department of Education website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.