Good News

Good News:   Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about
Federal COVID Relief Education Funds

Good News: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Federal COVID Relief Education Funds

The following provides general information on the distribution and requirements of federal relief funds for elementary and secondary education. Funds can be used to help reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools, support student learning, and respond to the social, emotional and mental health needs of students, including Mindfulness Based Social and Emotional Learning (MBSEL). To learn more, contact your state department of education to determine how the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund is being allocated to school districts.

What new education funds are available?

Three COVID relief acts have been passed to support elementary and secondary schools, known together as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Education Relief (ESSER), making over $190.5 billion available through the U.S. Department of Education.

1. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act - enacted March 2020 (aka ESSR I) provides $13+ billion. Funds must be set aside (encumbered) by Sept. 30, 2022 and spent by Sept. 30, 2023.

2. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, 2021 - enacted December 2020 (aka ESSR II) provides $54+ billion. Funds must be set aside (encumbered) by Sept. 30, 2022 and spent by Sept. 30, 2023.

3. American Rescue Plan (ARP) - enacted March 2021 (aka ESSR III) provides $122+ billion. Funds must be set aside (encumbered) by Sept. 30, 2023 and spent by Sept. 30, 2024.

When can school districts access funding?

Two-thirds of the total ESSR funding already has been made available for states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to distribute to school districts and the remainder will be released as states submit their ESSR implementation plans to the U.S. Department of Education.

How much of a state’s ESSR funding will go directly to school districts?

States must allocate at least 90 percent of ESSR funds to school districts. States may retain up to 10 percent of their grant funds to address learning loss, evidence-based summer enrichment programs, evidence-based after-school programs, and emergency needs as determined by each state’s department of education. However, states may only use one-half of one percent of its total ESSR grant funds for administrative costs. This is “use it or lose it” funding and can be distributed via grants or procurement contracts based on a state’s needs.

What are allowable expenditures under the ESSR grant funds?

1. Academic support, including afterschool and summer programs to help address learning loss (MBSEL would qualify under this category)

2. Mental Health and Social & Emotional Learning (MBSEL would qualify under this category)

3. Operations - building-based COVID prevention/response measures (e.g. PPE, ventilation, cleaning, etc.)

Click here for a specific breakdown of eligible funding categories that can be used to support Mindfulness Based Social and Emotional learning.

Are the funds completely at the school districts discretion?

While the grant programs provide a lot of latitude, school districts must dedicate a certain percentage of grant funding for evidence-based “learning loss” interventions such as -

- Summer Learning
- Extended Day
- After School Programming
- Extended Year Services

Further, these interventions must address student SEL needs, as well as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented students in Title I subgroups including low-income children, children with disabilities, English language learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and students in the foster care system.

How do school districts apply for ESSR grant funds? Is this only a Title I program?

- Distribution of funds will be based upon the formula grants defined in Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) used to determine socio-economic need (i.e., districts with higher numbers of students in the free or reduced lunch program will receive a higher proportion of the state’s allocated funding on a per-student basis)

- Title I program specifications do NOT apply to the use of funds - only the formula itself is being applied for funding distribution;once a district receives funding, it is applicable to ALL schools in the district (not solely to schools with Title I Part A status)

- Under ESSER I, II, III, districts can expand Title I approved purchases across all schools (or submit new documentation for new purchases using ESSER funding).

Will this COVID relief funding result in state budget cuts to other education spending?

No. ESSER funds cannot replace existing education funding, meaning states must maintain support for elementary and secondary education in each fiscal year at the average of the 3 prior years. The intent of ESSR funding is to provide school districts with a great deal of financial flexibility in how they choose to direct new funding and reallocate existing funds to support their schools.