What school districts need to know about ESSER II and other funding sources
February 24, 2021
Responsibly reopening K-12 schools is a major federal priority. Recently, Congress set aside a total of $67.8 billion to support the pandemic response in schools, including testing. This fund is called the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund—or, ESSER.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recently provided guidance on how schools can access these funds. But the various guidelines and acronyms can be a bit confusing, so we’ve broken down the most important things school districts need to know.
What is ESSER II, and how is it different from ESSER I?
ESSER II provides schools with $54.3 billion in federal aid to support reopening. It was passed in late December as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act.
ESSER I was passed as part of the CARES Act in March of last year. There are a few important differences between the two. For instance, ESSER II also provides funding for non-public schools (like charter schools) and includes a new focus on addressing learning loss. It’s important to note that any remaining funds from ESSER I must be used before using ESSER II.
How much funding can my school receive?
At least 90% of ESSER II funding must be distributed by the state to school districts, while 10% can be reserved at the state level for emergency needs. For individual schools, that breaks down to about $1,000 per K-12 student.
The exact amount that each state receives depends on a formula that comes from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. You can find the specific amount available for each state here.
How can the funding be used?
Broadly, ESSER funds can be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. The guidelines for ESSER II are a bit more specific. The funding can be used to prepare schools for reopening, address learning loss, and for projects that improve air quality in school buildings. It’s important to note that, according to the DOE, schools have “considerable flexibility” in deciding how to best use these funds based on their individual needs.
Some state agencies have provided clarification or more specific guidance for how schools can use these funds. That being said, states cannot restrict any use of ESSER funds that is permitted by the CARES act or CRRSA act.
Can ESSER II fund classroom testing?
Yes, ESSER II can generally be used to fund classroom testing. Schools should confirm program details and any limitations on covered testing with their state DOE.
One testing method used successfully by public schools in Massachusetts is called pooling. Pooling works by testing everyone in a class with a single test. If the pooled result is negative, the school can assume that no one in the class has the virus—for the cost of one test rather than dozens.
With pooling, testing costs as little as $6 per student per week. That means a twelve-week testing program would use less than 10% of the average funding available per student under ESSER II.
How do schools apply for ESSER funding?
The process varies by state, so check your state DOE website for specific application information.
What other funding sources are out there?
Besides ESSER, there’s more federal funding for school COVID-19 efforts in the pipeline.
President Biden recently announced a new effort to improve COVID-19 testing. This includes $650 million to expand testing for K-8 schools. The American Rescue Plan is also working its way through Congress, which would channel $50 billion in aid to fund testing and support school reopening. To learn more about what funding sources may be available to your school, speak to our team today.
Interested in bringing simple, affordable testing to your school district? Concentric can help!
We know that running COVID-19 testing for schools can be an overwhelming task. Our goal is to make it as simple and painless as possible. To learn more, click here to get in touch with a representative or attend an online info session.