Back-to-School 2021: An update on pandemic relief funding

Editor’s Note: Much has happened since we published this blog in February 2021; we’ve updated to include the most recent details regarding pandemic funding for schools, including details about the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP).

Federal aid programs created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic represent important funding opportunities for K-12 schools. Each package is meant to provide enough flexibility for schools to complete a variety of projects–from purchasing cleaning supplies, covering budget shortfalls and providing educational support, to purchasing technologies and facilitating training for educators and other staff members.

Each program has approaching deadlines for states to allocate the funds and for schools to commit them to a specific project. Here’s an overview.

Pandemic relief packages: A refresher

· “ESSER I”: The ESSER Fund established in the CARES Act.

· “ESSER II”: The additional funding for ESSER provided in the CRRSA Act.

· “ARP ESSER”: The additional funding for ESSER provided in the ARP Act.

· “GEER I”: The GEER Fund established in the CARES Act.

· “GEER II”: The additional funding for GEER provided in the CRRSA Act.

What is the American Rescue Plan?

In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) was signed into law–allocating $126 billion in new, flexible funds for schools that they can spend over the next three-and-a-half school years — the largest-ever one-time federal investment in K-12 education.

Specifically, the ARP includes:

· $123B for K-12 schools (via ESSER)

· $2.75B for non-public schools

· $3B for IDEA

· $7B to support the federal E-rate program (via Emergency Connectivity Fund)

· $39.6B for higher education institutions (via HEER)

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “[ARP] funds are provided to State educational agencies and school districts to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nation’s students”.

For deadlines, guidance and other details regarding the ARP, download our pandemic relief funding infographic

Additional information can also be found in the U.S. Department of Education’s ARP ESSER fact sheet

The economic fallout of the pandemic combined with increased expenses to safely meet student needs –whether holding classes virtually or in person – have created new pressures on school budgets. But federal aid programs created through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020 and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021 represent important funding opportunities for K-12 schools.  

Funding for CARES and CRRSA can be awarded to fund a wide variety of school projects, from purchasing cleaning supplies, covering budget shortfalls, providing educational support and purchasing technologies to help meet increasingly complex demands to keep students and educators safe while supporting learning.  

Each program has approaching deadlines for states to allocate the funds and for schools to commit them to a specific project. Here’s a quick overview:  

What is CARES funding?  

Approved by Congress in March 2020, the CARES Act established earmarked $13.2 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund to help K-12 schools respond to the impact of COVID-19.  The federal funds are distributed to school districts through state educational agencies based on formulas established through Title I, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for the 2019 fiscal year. 

The fund has a use or lose it approach and must be awarded within one year– ranging from April to June 2021, depending on the state. School districts have until Sept. 30, 2022, to commit the funds to specific projects. States may retain the remaining 10% of ESSER funds for emergency needs to address issues responding to the pandemic. 

What is CRSSA 

Congress’ CRSSA stimulus package includes $81.9 billion for education, including $54.3 billion for K-12 public schools through the ESSER II Fund. ESSER II funding is allocated in the same proportion as Title I funding, based on the 2020 fiscal year, but state agencies must plan to use all ESSER funds before tapping into the ESSER II program, to avoid leaving funds unused once the one-year program expiration occurs. Governors were also allocated $4.1 billion, of which $2.75 must go to private schools. For that reason, districts who receive ESSER II funds are not required to provided equitable services to non-public school students and teachers. Chalkbeat notes that while that figure is more than four times what Congress provided to schools through CARES in March, much of that money end up being applied to cover state budget shortfalls or to cover increased expenses as schools try to meet needs of students. 

States must award ESSER II funds within one year of receiving them, which will be January 2022. Funds from ESSER II may be used for costs dating back to March 13, 2020 and are must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2023.  

How can ESSER Funds be used? 

Schools can use ESSER funds for activities authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, or the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Additional information about the allowable uses of funds can be found on the ESSER Fund Allowable Uses webpage. 

Included among allowable activities is the purchase of educational technology such as Lightspeed instructional audio systems–including hardware, software, and connectivity – for students to facilitate educational interaction between students and their instructors.  

Schools leverage funding 

For many districts these funds provide an important opportunity to make needed investments.  

Lightspeed’s Topcat instructional audio system had already won support from teachers with improved audibility and less vocal strain at Simi Valley Unified School District, but its benefits took on greater urgency as the district recognized health measures to minimize transmission risks of COVID-19 including masks, social distancing and increased ventilation, have significant impact on audio quality.  

CARES funding has enabled Simi Valley USD to install the wireless instructional audio systems in more than 900 classrooms across 30 schools now, rather than spacing them out across several years of facilities projects. 

“When we bring students back to the classroom, we’ll have Lightspeed in place,” said Philip Scrivano, Simi Valley USD IT Director. 

Recent Updates, More Funding 

Since this the publish date of this blog, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act which provided additional funding for schools. The American Rescue Plan Act allocates $123 billion in new, flexible funds for school districts that they can spend over the next three-and-a-half school years — the largest-ever one-time federal investment in K-12 education. Learn more here

Learn more 

For information about how Lightspeed’s installed or portable instructional audio systems can facilitate learning contact a sales representative today. 

Learn more about how federal funding is responding to impact from COVID-19 through the ESSER and ESSER II.  

State allocations for ESSER are available here. You can find information about your state’s ESSER II funding allocation here.  

ESSER Fund: 

Here are some FAQs on ESSER. Details comparing the two funds are available here