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ESSER Funding and Planning

Guidance for Districts:
making the most of the COVID relief funds

ESSER Funding GUIDE

A Comprehensive ESSER Resource for Educators and Administrators

The federal government recently passed three funding packages intended to support schools and districts nationally as they contend with the impacts from the pandemic. Taken together these three acts provide resources for schools to reopen safely, improve preparedness, and begin to support the varied needs of children.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Click on any chapter to scroll directly to it.

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What is ESSER?

WHAT IS ESSER?

ESSER stands for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund. This significant funding was included in the three recent funding packages signed into law in 2020 and 2021: the CARES Act, CRRSA, and the American Rescue Plan. 

  • The CARES Act passed in March 2020, also known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. This included funds for individuals, businesses, and schools. The emergency funding specifically for schools is distributed through two portions: one called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER I) Fund, and one called the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.

  • The CRRSA passed in December 2020, also known as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. This also includes funds for individuals, businesses, and schools. The portion specifically for education is referred to as ESSER II. 

  • The American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021 provides a variety of tax changes and payments designed to support individuals, businesses, governments, and schools. This Act also included a portion reserved for education known as ARP ESSER, or ESSER III.

WHAT ARE THE APPROVED USES OF ESSER FUNDS?
HOW CAN WE USE ESSER FUNDING?

  • ESSER I (CARES Act) - Allocates $13.2b by Title 1 formula to the states. This money can be used for a variety of needs including: 
    • Summer learning
    • Providing mental health services
    • Educational technology including hardware and software
    • Activities to address the unique needs of various subgroups, including students with disabilities, BIPOC students, English learners, as well as students experiencing homeless, low income, or in foster care 
    • Preparedness and continuity of services

 

  • GEER I (CARES Act) - This includes $4b which governors have wide discretion in how they allocate to K-12 school districts, institutions of higher education, libraries and non-profits.

 

  • ESSER II (CRRSA) - Allocates $54.3b for K-12 education. This funding can be used in ways similar to ESSER I with the addition of the following uses: addressing “learning loss,” preparing schools for reopening, and projects to improve air quality in school buildings.  The Act also includes funding broadband ($7b), childcare ($10b), motor bus operators ($2b) some of which can be used for school buses.

 

  • ESSER III (American Rescue Plan)- This portion of funding provides $123b to states to support K-12 education, $7.2b for the Erate program, and $800m to support wraparound services for children experiencing homelessness. Templates for state plans include similar potential uses as ESSER II, with the addition of strategies to safely reopen schools, an assessment of the pandemic on students, and plans evidence-based interventions especially for disadvantaged students. This is in addition to $10b the CDC may be distributing to provide screening and testing for teachers, staff, and students in schools.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ESSER, ESSER II, AND ARP ESSER III?

 

The differences are noteworthy. Between ESSER I and ESSER III, the funding increased by 10x, and the allowable uses expanded to include “learning loss” and preparing schools for reopening. In addition the deadlines to obligate the funding varies.

  • ESSER I / CARES - must be obligated by September 2022
  • ESSER II / CRRSA - must be obligated by September 2023
  • ESSER III / American Rescue Plan - must be obligated by September 2024

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A SYSTEMS-LEVEL APPROACH TO ADDRESSING SCHOOLING LOSS

Addressing Schooling Loss coverAddressing schooling loss is a complex, new, and unknown reality that all districts must navigate. In our new guide, we approach planning to address schooling loss (distinct from learning loss) in three parts. We begin by looking at the big picture and progressively get more tactical.

Download the Guide

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How to develop your ESSER plan?

WHAT NEEDS TO BE IN AN ESSER PLAN?

In order to access the new funding, school districts must apply directly to their states. While each state process and timeline is different, states will require districts to develop and submit plans that reflect the needs of the district, include community input, and align with district priorities. Here are some common requirements - before responding be sure to see your state specific requirements.

  • Needs assessment (bullet points may be acceptable)
  • Data analysis
  • Funding strategies (how will the planned use of funding align with the federally approved uses)
  • Strategy & timeline

WHEN ARE ESSER PLANS DUE?

Again this varies by state, but most states will require plans for ESSER III funding in June 2021. States are required to get the funding to districts quickly, which in turn requires the grant application, and the turnaround time to be short.

HOW TO GET STAKEHOLDERS INVOLVED QUICKLY?

Involving stakeholders in your planning is essential. In fact, the process of planning is equally or more important than the plan itself. Working with your stakeholders intentionally, enables you to glean your community’s priorities, pain points and questions which may have evolved during the course of the pandemic. And when done well, it can ensure an authentic representation of multiple viewpoints, provide inputs that help to prioritize diversity of thought and perspective, and lay the foundation for stakeholder investment in the work. Your first encounters with stakeholders are critical as they will set the precedent for how they will engage throughout the planning and implementation.

 

We recommend the following steps:

 

Step 1: Articulate Your Why

Clearly define the information you need from your stakeholders and the reason you need it. What will you do with the information you gather? Clarity on this before you get started will ensure you are using time and resources efficiently and will encourage participation from your stakeholders.

 

Step 2: Identify Your Stakeholders

Consider who will be impacted by the change you are considering: students, teachers, families, alumni, community members, staff, campus leaders, and district leaders are typical stakeholder groups, but, depending on your initiative, you may have different or more stakeholders. Be sure to consider those who you may not see or hear from often, and include them in the process.

 

Step 3: Plot Your Stakeholders on an Engagement Matrix

Utilizing a matrix to place your stakeholders according to interest and influence will help you determine the best approach to involve each group. 

 

 

Step 4: Explore Tactics Aligned with Your Needs

Reviewing options for the different ways you can engage different groups will ensure that the time you spend developing your tools and conducting your research will have the most impact. The variety of methods for engaging stakeholders can include: focus groups, surveys, town halls, in depth interviews, empathy interviews, shadowing, and community walks. For more ideas and a breakdown of these methods read our Equitable Inclusion Guide.

FOR GOOD MEASURE:
A Guide for Building Strong Data Culture in Schools

For Good Measure - Data Culture Guide coverToday, many school districts struggle with DRIP syndrome: they are Data Rich and Information Poor because their ability to organize, process, and understand data is limited. With our new guide, we provide strategies for district and school leaders to better understand their existing data culture and identify the ways in which it needs to be improved.

 

Download the Guide

HOW DO YOU PRIORITIZE GOALS?

Even before the pandemic, many school districts had significant needs. Post-pandemic these needs are even greater. So despite the additional funding, many school districts will need to prioritize their efforts and time. How you prioritize will not only help you to target the most important needs, but the prioritization process will help you to reinforce your values, and begin to build support behind your plan. 

 

At Education Elements, we use a prioritization matrix with our districts. After making an informed list of all of the strategies, we draw a two-by-two matrix. We often ascribe the vertical axis to represent your definition of impact and the horizontal axis to represent the ease of implementation. This allows you to identify projects that are impactful while not being overly complex. 

 

 

An important note - while prioritizing your strategies it is critical to consider projects that support “edge cases” and not solely those focused on the entire community. Past experience shows us that designing for edge cases can encourage innovative thinking that is beneficial for all. Think about the ADA-compliant bathroom stall designed for someone using mobility equipment; it is also useful for someone traveling with a service animal or a parent with a young child needing the changing station. Edge cases allow us to reflect on where success in one extreme situation might breed success in another.

Examples of this include cases like the following:

  • School leaders can not only easily access disaggregated student achievement data for school improvement planning, but they can also collect perception data from their staff to improve workplace culture. 
  • Teachers know how to collect formative assessment data that are easy to understand and apply to their instructional practice, but they also know biographical and social-emotional information about their students to better understand their individual needs. 
  • Students know their summative assessment scores and class ranking to understand their relative performance, and they also have data that show them their individual strengths to make decisions about their own learning, like course selections.
  • Parents know their child’s report card grades, but they can also access and easily understand information about their child’s social and emotional learning at school to better support their development and home.

- 3 -

How to address the ESSER priorities?

WHAT ARE THE ESSER PRIORITIES?

 

We see three key priorities for ESSER II and ESSER III.

  1. Returning to in-person instruction
  2. Maintenance of effort and equity which is designed to ensure that federal dollars are not replacing local and state funding.
  3. Addressing “learning loss” - which includes:
    • Students academic health 
    • Social emotional wellbeing
    • Addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in student subgroups

On the Term "Learning Loss"

While the term “learning loss” has been widely rejected by many educators, it is the official language of the law in ESSER II and ESSER III; and as such, we can expect states and districts to be required to address it, and the academic needs of their students, explicitly.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU NEED HELP WITH PREPARING THEIR ESSER PLANS?

Many districts are reaching out to Education Elements to ask for our help with these priorities - in part because our core competencies are around systems-level strategy, school design and implementation, and leadership development. 

 

Take a look at how we are helping school districts address their ESSER priorities:

ESSER Support Strategies Table

 

- 4 -

Sample Approaches & Plans

WHAT DO SAMPLE SCHOOL DISTRICT ESSER PLANS LOOK LIKE?

Although the Department of Education released a sample plan template to states recently many districts are just now developing their plans. That is to say, districts are planning - and most haven’t made their plans public (as of May 2021).

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