It’s hard to believe that only three years ago, we were in the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic, with schools striving to successfully implement remote learning and cope with growing uncertainty. Among the opportunities and challenges that came with the disruption of the pandemic was an unprecedented level of federal investment in K-12 schools. Between March 2020 and March 2021, the federal government approved three stimulus bills providing billions of dollars in relief aid for K-12 education through the Education Stabilization Fund—the largest ever federal investment in education.
Since the funding was announced, states and districts have been on the fast track to allocate and appropriately spend the investment to ensure student safety and accelerate achievement. Now three years later and with ESSER spending deadlines looming, we thought it would be a good time to look at how states and school districts are spending this money and how they are faring in the face of looming deadlines.
ESSER Deadlines & Extensions
The deadline for ESSER I has already passed. However, in response to challenges ranging from staffing shortages to supply chain disruptions, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) granted seven states (Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia permission to extend districts’ deadline for spending ESSER I funds until March 30, 2024—14 months past the original January 2023 deadline.
About 66 percent of ESSER II funds and 25 percent of ESSER III funds were allocated as of February 2023, according to the USDOE’s Education Stabilization Fund Transparency Portal.1 ESSER II has an allocation deadline of September 30, 2023, and a spending deadline of January 28, 2024. ESSER III, allocated under the America Rescue Plan, is the largest of the allocations. It has a September 30, 2024 allocation deadline and a January 28, 2025 spending deadline. It remains to be seen whether states lagging behind in spending will be granted extensions ESSER II and III deadlines.
However, in light of pending spending deadlines, schools have accelerated spending this school year. As of March 2023, ESSER funds were being spent at a pace of about $5.1 billion per month.2
Most of the money Congress allocated through ESSER I, II and III went directly to local districts. But state education agencies were allowed to reserve about 10 percent for their programs. According to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), state education agencies have spent the majority of these funds on accelerated and extended learning time, such as tutoring and after-school programs. Other state priorities include recruitment, retention, and support for school staff, as well as student and staff wellbeing. CCSSO reports states are on track to meet spending deadlines with most ESSER state funds already committed through subgrants or contracts.3
How ESSER Funds Are Being Spent
Reporting on how states and districts are spending ESSER money lags a bit because of reporting timelines. However, according to a report released by the USDOE in December 2022, the majority of the money is being spent on student academic, social, emotional and other needs. Spending on safely reopening schools for in-person learning and expenses related to physical health and safety in schools accounted for the second and third largest portions.4
In its most recent ESSER spending FAQ, the USDOE reminds districts the funds can be invested in family engagement activities and assessments for multilingual learners. In addition, they warn that while the funds can be spent on COVID-related construction projects, those type of projects might extend beyond the spending deadlines. Overall, the USDOE is urging education leaders to evaluate their spending to date and make careful decisions about the use of remaining funds.5
There are still significant opportunities for education companies to support states and districts as they continue to invest ESSER funding in programs, projects and services that will help their school communities recover from the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. At MDR, we can collaborate with you to develop multichannel marketing campaigns that will help you reach education leaders whose students, teachers and communities would most benefit from your offerings. Reach out to us today.