The global pandemic presented school leaders with unprecedented challenges. Across the nation, education was disrupted, and school budgets were strained with sudden, unplanned expenses. Districts struggled to absorb the costs of enhanced sanitation measures, PPE, and the switch to remote learning. As the economy plunged, state governments suffered declining revenues and were unable to fill local education authority (LEA) budget gaps.
The federal government responded to the crisis with a series of multi-trillion-dollar COVID-relief packages. Each package included Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to address the urgent need to safely continue education during the health emergency, reopen schools to in-person learning once the virus had been contained, and obtain the costs of recovering from the academic, social, and emotional damage of the pandemic. The legislation authorizing these one-time grants specified allowable uses and set availability deadlines.
ESSER Funds Timeline
March 27, 2020—ESSER I
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was signed into law by President Trump when it became evident that the global health emergency would dramatically change everyday life in the country. The ESSER I funds included in the act prioritized sanitation for in-school activities, technology and training for remote learning, extended school days, summer programs, and other activities to address community needs and retain employees, as a large swath of the economy had shut down. LEAs may apply these funds to pre-award activities backdated to March 13, 2020 (when the President declared a national emergency), and must be used by September 30, 2022. This date includes the twelve-month Tydings amendment period.
December 27, 2020—ESSER II
The second round of funding in December called for the prioritization of programs to address the learning losses that students experienced when schools closed to in-person classes. The wording in ESSER II legislation also emphasized the need to prepare school buildings for a safe return by testing and upgrading ventilation systems. These awards may be applied to activities beginning March 13, 2020, and must be used by September 30, 2023. Again, this date includes the twelve-month Tydings amendment period.
March 11, 2021—ESSER III
The increased availability and distribution of vaccines in spring 2021 had the nation looking forward to an end to the pandemic. In this environment, the American Rescue Plan was signed into law and focused on recovery. ESSER III prioritizes schools reopening, mitigating learning loss, addressing disparities that became evident during the pandemic, and rebuilding systems for sustainability. ESSER III funds may be applied to activities dating back to March 13, 2020, and including the Tydings amendment period, must be used by September 30, 2024.
Creating a Three-Year Proposed Funding Schedule
The legislation authorizing ESSER funds focuses on meeting urgent needs during the pandemic but also looks forward to strengthening academic programs, social-emotional learning, and shoring up school safety and security. Rather than using these non-recurring grants for stop-gap measures, school leaders may take this opportunity to develop a vision for educational programs and school infrastructure. Funds should be used to address disparities across diverse student populations and shore up school safety and security.
Keeping deadlines in mind, school leaders should begin by soliciting input from all stakeholders—administrators, teachers, staff, parents, and students—to identify needs and build a “wishlist.” They can set priorities by appropriating the first round of grants to immediate needs and then earmarking ESSER II and ESSER III funds to finance long-term objectives.
Components of a Three-Year Proposed Funding Schedule
Provisions of the ESSER funding legislation require that schools create plans for a return to in-person learning. While effective vaccination campaigns have brought the spread of the virus under control in most states, approval of a vaccine for children younger than twelve is not expected until mid-winter, leaving primary grade students vulnerable.
The CDC currently recommends schools continue sanitation protocols developed during the pandemic, including a face-covering requirement for those who are not fully vaccinated and maintaining at least a three-foot distance between students in classrooms. The CDC also advises school administrators to maintain communications with public health officials to determine the level of risk within the community and adjust safety protocols as necessary.
Addressing Academic Losses and School Community Wellbeing
The ESSER III legislation requires schools to reserve at least 20% of funds to address learning losses that occurred over the past year and a half. This may include extended school days, extended school year, summer enrichment programs, and tutoring. Funds may also be used to provide emotional support and counseling for staff and students.
Long-Term Infrastructure Investments
The pandemic shed light on weaknesses in school safety systems. For the past two decades, school security has primarily focused on bullying and violence prevention. The national health emergency brought a new kind of threat, one that cannot be stopped with metal detectors or security cameras. Controlling the transmission of viruses requires technology to monitor activity within district buildings and coordinate communications with local health officials. School administrators need to be aware of community outbreaks and illnesses within the district to make informed safety decisions.
Legacy building access, attendance, visitor management, and behavior modification systems often fall short of providing and integrating the data needed to stay on top of these new threats to student and staff health. As old systems are retired, new technology may be adopted within the ESSER fund timelines.
Technology to Enhance Building Security
Secure door access utilizing smart ID cards enables superintendents and building administrators to know who is in district buildings in real time. This information is critical for contact tracing and when integrated with automated attendance and visitor management systems, gives schools a complete and immediate overview of occupants and activities within a building from an administrative dashboard.
Addressing Social-Emotional Learning Deficits
Months of remote learning have affected academic progress, and many students are also experiencing delays in their social-emotional development, which often manifests as behavior problems. Automated behavior management systems can further the goals of ESSER funding by addressing deficits that students have in their social-emotional learning.
ESSER funds offer districts a historic opportunity to address immediate needs created by the pandemic, strengthen school programs, and advance equity in education. The final round of funding must be used by the start of the 2024-2025 school year. This allows for the graduated implementation of new systems. A three-year proposed funding schedule may include technology upgrades to modernize safety and security to better address health concerns and prepare schools for future emergencies.
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!