What's the Hold-Up with ESSER Funds?

    

Background

In March of 2021, the U.S Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, providing an additional 122 billion dollars in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. This funding, coupled with the CARES Act (passed March 2020) and CRRSA Act (passed December 2020) ESSER funds brings the total ESSER funding to about 190 billion dollars, which has been designated to help education agencies at the state and local level address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

ESSER Funding Explained

The question has been asked, “If all this ESSER funding has been provided, why is it taking so long for these funds to become available for districts to spend?” 

Typically, the U.S. Government urges states to distribute grant funding to districts as quickly as possible, but there is a process by which these funds can be received. To a degree, how quickly these funds are distributed depends on how nimble and responsive the U.S. government and state governments can be. Delays from the time when grant funding is approved to the time when that grant funding is received in LEAs are inherent in the process that must be followed for Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to obtain these funds. The process typically follows this scenario: 

  1. The U.S. Congress passes a funding bill, which is signed into law by the President.
     
  2. For education-related funding, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) must create an application that State Education Agencies (SEAs) must complete to apply for the funds. 

  3. Once SEAs have completed and submitted their applications to the USED, the USED must take those applications through an approval process, requiring changes, if necessary, before funding may be granted to the SEAs. 

  4. SEAs must also develop applications that allow LEAs in their State to apply for these grant funds once the SEA’s application to the USED is approved. 

  5. Once LEAs have completed their applications for funding there is a similar approval process where SEAs must review applications, require changes if necessary, and approve LEA applications for funding.

  6. It is only after all these steps have been completed that LEAs can gain access to this funding. 

SEA applications for CARES Act and the CRRSA Act ESSER funding have been approved for some time and most LEAs should already have access to these funds. However, the last of the SEA applications for ARP Act ESSER funds were approved in January 2022. So, while those SEAs that saw early approval of their ARP ESSER funding applications may already be receiving, reviewing, and approving LEA ARP ESSER funding applications, states that received later approval weren’t able to make applications available to LEAs as quickly. 

How Can I Use These Funds?

Districts have a lot of flexibility on how they can use CRRSAA funds. The fact that districts can use CRRSAA funds for any ESSA activity - “Any activity authorized by the ESEA” means that districts can use these funds to purchase products from the TransACT family of products, including ParentNotices, AfterSchool21TravelTracker-Routing, FacilityTracker, and Homeless Information Management System for Students (HIMSS). 

Take a look at this webinar that highlights how our software helps school districts plan for emergency routing needs with CRRSAA funds, or contact a team member to learn more about how these products can serve other real needs in your district today. 

Dr. David Holbrook

About The Author

Dr. David Holbrook is a nationally recognized leader in federal programs administration and monitoring with expertise in Title I, Title III, Native American Education, and Federal Programs. Dr. Holbrook has also worked as a consultant with Title III of the US Department of Education and now serves as Executive Director, Federal Compliance and State Relationships with TransACT Communications.