What is ESSER?
ESSER stands for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, a federal program administered by the Department of Education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides emergency financial assistance to public school districts across the country.
K-12 institutions may use ESSER funding to address pandemic learning loss and invest in infrastructure and programs to open and operate safely.
To date, the government has signed three ESSER packages into law, totaling $189.5 billion:
ESSER I was approved in March 2020 for $13.5 billion
ESSER II was approved December 2020 for $54.3 billion
ESSER III was approved in March 2021 for $123 billion
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What can ESSER funds be used for?
The government stipulates that ESSER funds may be used to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19. Districts must use at least 20 percent of ESSER funding to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions.
This leaves open a wide range of uses, including:
Investing in furniture and equipment to keep teachers, students and staff safe and/or distanced during in-person instruction, such as individual desks and mobile chairs, tabletop screens and PPE.
Investing in outdoor furniture and equipment to account for an increase in outdoor activities and dining, such as picnic tables, benches and portable sinks.
Hiring additional personnel to keep school spaces safe and clean, such as nurses and custodians.
Purchasing health and safety equipment to help prevent the spread of disease, such as air purifiers, sanitation stations and universal cleaners.
Investing in educational technology and remote learning tools, including hardware like headphones, software and connectivity to support student learning.
Purchasing furniture and equipment to implement before and after-school enrichment programs, including table and chair sets.
Hiring additional educators and support staff.
Purchasing adaptive furniture and equipment to support students with special needs.
Is my school eligible for ESSER funding?
Every school within a district, regardless of its Title I status, is eligible to receive ESSER funding. Charter schools that belong to LEAs (local educational agencies) are eligible to receive ESSER funding as well.
How can my school apply for ESSER funding?
School districts may apply for ESSER funding through their state educational agency, or SEA. “An SEA is the agency primarily responsible for the State supervision of public elementary schools and secondary schools.” For example: the Ohio Department of Education is the SEA in Ohio. The Wisconsin Department of Institution is the SEA in Wisconsin.
SEA’s in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia apply directly to the Department of Education for ESSER funds and are responsible for allocating the funds to relevant school districts.
When do ESSER funds expire?
School districts have a limited time to spend ESSER funds. Each round of ESSER money has a specific deadline for use, or “period of availability”:
ESSER funds must be liquidated within 120 calendar days after the end of the availability period.
Explore our expert resources to learn how ESSER funds can be used to create school spaces that not only keep students and staff safe but address issues like learning loss and mental health.