What is ESSER? Since March 2020, Congress has signed into law three COVID-relief plans directing $190.6 billion to state education agencies through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.
States are required to distribute 90% of ESSER funds to local school districts. Each plan also provides funding for non-public schools, either as part of ESSER funding or under separate assistance programs.
FutureEd has distilled the plans into a spreadsheet showing state priorities for the other 10% of ESSER funds.
How can I use ESSER funding? The most recent DOE ESSER FAQ notes that ESSER funding can be spent on allowable uses identified for ANY of the three ESSER funds and provides a consolidated list. Broad categories include:
Providing principals and other school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools
Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, students with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care
Purchasing educational technology
Providing mental health services and supports
Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and enrichment and supplemental after-school programs
Addressing the academic impact of lost instructional time
Where would my ESSER funds make the most impact? As most students and teachers return to some form of in-person learning, resources will be needed to address SEL needs. According to Denise Cobb- Williams, Director of Elementary Curriculum at Walton County School District in Georgia, the need is as great for teachers as it is for students, and she plans to use ESSER funds to also provide SEL professional development to her staff.
Another area of focus for Denise Cobb-Williams is addressing the COVID gap in literacy skills. For her, the need is especially great for students in Grades K-2 where foundational literacy skills like letter sounds are not easily taught and learned via Zoom.
To accelerate learning due to lost instructional time, teachers will need access to high-quality content. Resources will be needed as districts provide extended learning opportunities such as after-school programs and summer school.
Books connected to science and social studies domains will be needed to help build vocabulary and background knowledge which research shows greatly impact reading comprehension.
School and district leaders will need books for at-home reading – for parents to read aloud to their children and for children to read independently. To address gaps in Grades K-2 early literacy, teachers will need access to resources that help teach and reinforce important foundational literacy skills.
Also, while no child has been untouched by COVID-19, the impact is greater for some student groups. Culturally relevant and inclusive resources will be needed to help teachers create positive learning environments and engage all students in learning.
How long do I have to spend ESSER funds? The following chart identifies deadlines for states to award ESSER funds to districts along with dates by which districts must obligate funds. According to the May 2021 DOE ESSER FAQ, ESSER funds do not need to be spent in a particular order. Rather, districts are encouraged to be mindful that each ESSER fund has a different period of availability. The activities the funds are spent on can extend beyond the date by which the funds must be obligated.
Do you have more questions? Please feel free to contact your Follett rep for more information on how ESSER funding can help you.
Laura Byars has been with Follett for seven years and is the manager of the Follett Academic Consultants. She is a former educator with a master’s degree in teaching and a master’s degree in reading and literacy. Before Follett, Laura taught science, middle school language arts, and a summer reading intervention program in a high-performing school district in the western Chicago suburbs. In her free time, Laura enjoys cooking, traveling, running, and biking with her husband and family.
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