Helping Schools Maximize ESSER Spending

Mitigating learning loss. Declining enrollments. Ensuring student social and emotional health. Managing increased parental involvement. Providing a safe learning environment.

These concerns are just the top of the laundry list of challenges that education leaders face in 2023. Plus, they face the looming September 2024 deadline to allocate Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funds – the largest ever federal investment in education.

While it is hard to get a firm number on how much of the money has already been spent, a study released by McKinsey & Company in November 2022 estimates that by the end of the 2021-2022 school year districts spent $45 billion of total available funds, leaving about $130 billion to allocate before the deadline. McKinsey projects that nearly $20 billion in ESSER funds may not be obligated by then. Administrators surveyed told McKinsey the challenges they face in spending the money include “administrative hurdles, planning issues, and a talent and vendor shortage.”1

Here are some ways that you can be a  trusted partner for schools and districts and help them overcome those hurdles and navigate the process of finding the products and services that meet their needs in which to invest this funding:

  • Check in with your customers and see how they are doingin general, of coursebut also with allocating their ESSER funds. Discover if there is a way you can help—whether it will result in a sale or not. It’s all about relationship building, especially these days.
  • Make a direct connection from your programs and services to the challenges districts are facing. If you have research or other data that demonstrates efficacy, share it. That is what administrators often need to share with school boards and community members when navigating purchases—particularly those that have a direct impact on instruction.
  • Create packages of products and services that meet a districts’ overall needs and market them that way. If a district needs to mitigate significant loss in student reading ability, design a package that specifically targets the grade levels they want to address and includes the professional learning and tools that they need for success. When responding to a district RFP, carefully craft your proposal to meet every detail of what they are looking for—a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in this fast-moving environment. A targeted response is more likely to move through their process quickly—making life easier for school administrators—and resulting in a sale for you.
  • Once you know what a district needs, ensure that you are targeting the right person. If they want to spend their ESSER funds on a social/emotional learning program, identify the job titles that make that recommendation in the district. It might not be the assistant superintendent for instruction, but rather the School Wellness or Mental Health Coordinator.
  • Help your current customers tell their success stories. With the initial slow spending of the money, there has been talk in Congress about converting some of the unspent money to go directly to families to pay for tutoring or private school tuition.2 Develop success stories—print or video—that showcase the ways your customers are successfully using your programs to mitigate learning loss that they can use to show their community and lawmakers the positive impact of this federal investment. Plus, you’ll end up with marketing resources to support future campaigns.

These past few years have not been easy on any of us, but they have been especially hard on teachers and school leaders. However, with great challenge come great opportunities. Helping schools maximize this once-in-a-lifetime federal investment in learning has the potential to result in positive outcomes for all of us—especially students. As you design your outreach campaigns and implement them, MDR is here to help.

1Halftime for the K–12 stimulus: How are districts faring?
2School Districts Are Hoarding Federal Covid Funds