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School districts can request more time to spend their ESSER COVID-19 relief funds
The U.S. Department of Education announced that school districts can request additional time to finish spending their ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) pandemic relief funds.
What are the Three ESSER Funds?
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed in March 2020. This Act included ESSER I, which gave schools $13.2 billion.
- The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, signed into law in December 2020, provides an additional $54.3 billion in an ESSER II Fund.
- In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act passed, which includes the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund. This allocates $126 billion for K-12 schools.
What Does the New ESSER Extension Relate to?
There are deadlines to obligate and spend ESSER relief funds. “When [we] talk about obligation, [it’s] things like having a purchase order, a contract, or agreement that shows you are going to obligate those funds,” Dr. Paula Love, Founder of RFP Match, explained on School Safety Today. Spend, also referred to as liquidation, deadlines are the date you actually spend the money with the contractor. Here’s an overview of the deadlines:
- ESSER I
- Obligate: September 30, 2022
- Spend: January 28, 2023
- ESSER II
- Obligate: September 30, 2023
- Spend: January 28, 2024
- ARP ESSER
- Obligate: September 30, 2024
- Spend: January 28, 2025
Who Can Request ESSER Spending Extensions?
School districts can request 18 months beyond the spend deadlines above, according to this letter from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The department, however, will only consider deadline extensions for extenuating circumstances.
The DOE released this letter as advocates continued to ask for more time to purchase supplies and complete construction projects. Although the DOE discourages districts to use funds for new construction projects—the DOE wrote that doing so “may limit [a district’s] ability to support other more pressing needs related to the impact of the pandemic on learning and the emotional and mental health and well-being of our children and youth” — they recognize that some school infrastructure projects are necessary to protect the health and safety of people within the school.
The DOE will prioritize infrastructure projects for extensions. Extensions for other items, like mental health services, school safety software, or tutoring, will only be approved under extreme circumstances.
How Can Schools Request ESSER Extensions?
Districts, at the time of this announcement, can request an extension for all three ESSER funds. The State Department of Education must submit a written extension request that details the reasons the extension is necessary. The DOE will approve or deny the extension requests based on review of a written submittal.
If the request is approved, “grantees may have up to 18 months beyond the end of the obligation period, although requests for longer may be considered related to extraordinary circumstances,” the letter clarifies.
How Can Schools Use ESSER Funds?
In their letter, the DOE states, “As the nation moves beyond reopening, the Department urges states and districts to act with that same urgency in continuing to put ARP ESSER dollars to use in schools and classrooms—to meet the immediate needs of students and to address the long-term impact of the pandemic on academic growth and student mental health.”
You can use ESSER funding to address students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs by providing tutoring and mentorship opportunities, increasing mental health services at school, implementing enrichment programs, and hiring additional support, like teachers, school counselors, and other critical staff, needed to help students achieve success.
Schools are also urged to think holistically about their school’s safety. They can use funding to help create and maintain a safe and healthy school. This includes being prepared for any incident and implementing necessary activities to maintain the operation of and continuity of services. Sustaining a safe and supportive school is critical for student learning and well-being.
Continue Learning About School Grants and Funding
Guide to K-12 In-Person Learning
Strategies to Address the Pandemic’s Impacts and Maximize ESSER Funds.