Trends in State Allocations of ESSER Funds


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This guest post comes from Austin Estes, program director of the COVID Relief Data Project at CCSSO. All views in guest posts are those of the author.

After passing the Sept. 30 deadline for states to allocate CARES Act relief funds, states are on track to spend the first round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds on time. States are using these funds, and other funds available over the next two years, to support the educational recovery of their students, bolster an effective teacher workforce, and provide wellness supports for students and staff.

This is one of the findings from the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO) COVID Relief Data Project. The project provides new data on the 10% of approximately $190 billion of funding that federal leaders provided state education agencies as a part of the three COVID-19 relief packages in 2020 and 2021. Much of the reporting on ESSER spending to date has focused on expenditures, a lagging indicator that is reported only after grants are paid out, or on state plans, which cover state intentions but not commitments.

CCSSO’s data draws on information beyond the planning phase and includes commitments for awards, grants and contracts to better illuminate how states are spending these funds.

CCSSO found that states have committed at least 70% of ESSER funds from all three packages through contracts and grants to local education agencies and community-based organizations, and an additional 22% of funds have been planned or budgeted. By August 2022, state education agencies had committed or budgeted 98% of funds distributed under the CARES Act, the first of the three relief packages.

Though one of the benefits of ESSER funds is the flexibility to use them to meet local needs, CCSSO’s data found commonalities across states in how they are using this funding. The most common priorities among states are:

  • Tutoring and accelerated learning.
  • Out-of-school or extended learning time.
  • Recruitment and retention of school staff.
  • High-quality curriculum and instruction.
  • Technology and remote learning.
  • Student and staff mental health and well-being.

Tutoring and academic recovery is the most common priority for state education agencies. Leaders dedicated a collective $4.2 billion to tutoring and accelerated learning and another $2.9 billion for programs beyond normal school hours. A state example of this work is the Arkansas Tutoring Corps, which is leveraging $4 million to recruit, train and connect tutors with students in their geographic area.

Another common priority for state ESSER spending is supporting the recruitment and retention of school staff, which totals about $1.4 billion of designated funding. Nevada, for example, is providing $20.7 million through its Incentivizing Pathways to Teaching grant program to support pre-service educators as they complete their coursework or student teaching commitments.

Additionally, states dedicated about $1.3 billion for high-quality curriculum and instruction. Kentucky allocated funds to its eight regional education cooperatives for professional learning on state standards implementation and the local curriculum development process, including selecting and evaluating high-quality instructional resources and professional learning.

States also prioritized technology and remote learning ($1.1 billion), particularly early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. Rounding out the top priorities is student and staff mental health and well-being ($1.1 billion), including states such as California, which awarded local education agencies $45 million to support and expand existing community schools. Vermont will also use $1.4 million in ESSER funding to create PATH Forward, which will provide targeted wellness supports to Vermont’s educator workforce through strategic investment in school-based wellness programs.

Even though most ESSER funds have already been committed, states are gathering data, evaluating program implementation and providing technical assistance and support to the field to ensure ESSER commitments address critical academic recovery needs. For more information on how states are using K-12 relief funds, visit the COVID Relief Data Project.

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