What the Education Budget News Means for You

On March 20, 2021, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) became a law. As part of a larger package, $122 billion was assigned to the ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. These relief funds are designed to mitigate the “impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the Nation.” School districts may wonder what this newly announced budget means for them. What projects can be paid for through ESSER funds? How can your district apply for the funding?

Here, we answer common questions about the funding and how you can use it for your school.

How will ESSER funds be awarded?

While this is federal funding, state educational agencies (SEAs) will award the funds to local education agencies (LEAs) that apply for the funding. At its discretion, SEAs may keep up to 10% of the grant award for their own emergency needs resulting from COVID-19. What’s more, SEAs can use half of 1% of the grant funding for administrative costs in their budget.

How long will ESSER funds be available?

SEAs must award the last of the funding by September 30, 2022.

How can school districts apply for ESSER funds?

SEAs can apply for ESSER funds from the federal government. They are responsible for supervising primary and secondary schools in the state. LEAs can then apply to their local SEA for the funding.

Both SEAs and LEAs can expect oversight from the Department of Education: “The Department will monitor the use of ESSER funds. In addition, ESSER funds are subject to audit requirements under the Single Audit Act and to review by the Government Accountability Office. The Department’s Office of the Inspector General may audit program implementation, as may any other federal agency, commission, or department in the lawful exercise of its jurisdiction and authority.”

How can the ESSER funds be used?

There are around a dozen ways that ESSER funds can be used. Here are a few significant ones.

  • Methods used for preparing for or mitigating the spread of COVID-19, including sanitation, minimizing the spread of disease, purchasing sanitation supplies, and preparing for closures
    • Note that ESSER funds should be used to buy materials that bring students back to campus, including “personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning and sanitizing materials, and similar supplies necessary to maintain school operations during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Since learning can and should continue, the Department encourages LEAs to target ESSER funding on activities that will support remote learning for all students, especially disadvantaged or at-risk students, and their teachers.”
  • Activities that meet the needs of “low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youths”
  • Education technology purchases for students who need technologies to improve interactions with classroom instructors or technology for low-income students or students with disabilities
  • Summer school learning, including classroom instruction, online learning, and programming especially for at-risk students
  • Mental health services

I want to develop a more thorough picture of who is on my campus at a given time. How can I do that?

A key facet of ESSER funding is ensuring that another pandemic like COVID-19 won’t shut down school districts for months. One of the best ways to do this is to set up contact tracing, where teams can call potentially infected staff, students, and visitors and make sure they do not come to campus.

ScholarChip’s tools can simplify contact tracing. First, assign each student a One Card, an individualized card with their own unique ID. Next, install Secure Door Access card readers on your main and classroom doors. When students come to campus, they need to swipe their One Cards on the door readers to ensure entry. The same applies when they enter each classroom.

This way, you can track students’ whereabouts for contact tracing if another pandemic arises or even during a nasty flu season. The data tracked by the cards can let administrators know if a student sat in a classroom with an infected person or came to campus when they were sick. This information can help you prevent future outbreaks.

To add to your technology, consider ScholarChip’s Visitor Management platform. Whenever someone comes to campus, they need to check in at the portal before they’re allowed on campus. These extra steps can make your contact tracing more effective. Not only can you track potentially infected people, but you can also notify them if they come in contact with a sick person.

Applying for ESSER Funds for ScholarChip Technology

The ESSER fund provides considerable funding for elementary and secondary schools to undertake projects that will help them use their budget to recover from COVID-19. This pandemic showed us how underprepared we were; contact tracing would have made returning to school easier. With better visitor management and student tracking systems in place, ScholarChip simplifies implementing the “procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of LEAs.”

The ScholarChip team is dedicated to helping school leaders maximize the safety and well-being of students and the entire school community.

Want to talk more about creating an actionable plan for these funds to help close the learning loss and make reopening effective and safe? Feel free to chat with one of our specialists today!