Benefits to Play: ESSER Funds Distribution to Schools

ESSER funding offers an effective way to improve your school with allocated funds for a range of allowable uses. Depending on your school’s unique needs, you can use the grant to improve school life for your students and staff. Still, there are some important questions to ask before and while using the funds.

How do you calculate the amount of funding you’ll receive? How long do you have to use your ESSER funds? What can you do to maximize the impact of your ESSER funds? This guide provides a deeper look into how ESSER funding works, how you can determine your school’s funding amount and important deadlines and considerations. 

How ESSER Funding Works

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States government created the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund as part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Local education agencies (LEAs), such as public, non-profit private and charter schools, receive these funds from state education agencies (SEAs).

This money may only be used for safety and operational measures that may reduce the impact of COVID-19 and improvements that enhance children’s emotional well-being and learning capabilities.

Key Differences Between ESSER I, II and III

There are three iterations of this education funding policy — ESSER I, II and III. The government introduced ESSER I in 2020 to help schools create safer environments and implement remote learning access during the pandemic. It included a total of $13.2 billion for allowable uses like student mental health support, summer learning programs, educational technology and preparedness for future impacts.

ESSER II was allocated $54.3 billion for the year 2021 to help schools improve indoor air quality, safely reopen while meeting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols and address education received during the lockdown. 

ESSER III, or American Rescue Plan (ARP) ESSER, offers $122 billion for addressing learning loss with comprehensive after-school programs or interventions that address children’s social, academic and emotional needs. It also offers discounts on internet and telecommunications expenses and helps with incorporating initiatives that support the needs of underserved communities. 

ESSER Funding and Allocation Explained

The federal government distributes ESSER funding to LEAs through SEAs. The role of SEAs is to receive applications from LEAs and distribute funding to them if they qualify.

The allocation process of ESSER III funding to LEAs involves a few basic steps. First, SEAs calculate the total amount of ESSER funds they can allocate to LEAs. They then identify LEA subgrant amounts in accordance with Title I, Part A of ESSER, and add up the amounts they plan to distribute.

The next step of the ESSER allocation process involves dividing each LEA’s potential subgrant amount by the total amount of subgrants. This step helps SEAs establish the proportion of funds each LEA receives.

If there are any existing LEAs that expanded or new charter school LEAs, the SEA will recalculate the LEA allocations. This means that whether you have yet to apply for ESSER funding or you’ve significantly expanded your school, you’ll still have time to apply for ESSER III funds as long as your SEA can provide your funds before the obligation deadline.

It’s important to note that all states receive varying amounts of ESSER funding, meaning the exact amount your school receives will partially depend on your specific SEA’s funds. Regarding the ARP ESSER, your state will have the role of creating a plan for using the funds, and the Department of Education will review the plan. The fund amount will then vary depending on your plan and the SEA’s plan.

Timeline and Deadlines for ESSER Funding

If your school received ESSER III funding, you must obligate your funds by September 30, 2024. This means that by September 30, you must have created plans for the funds and submitted those plans for approval. Then, you have until December 2024 to spend your funding as outlined. Your funding will expire if you do not obligate it by this deadline, and you’ll have to return the remaining funds.

However, your school can apply for an extension if necessary. So long as your funds are obligated by September 30, your school can increase the spending period to March 2026 if granted an extension. Schools with a significant amount of funding or those that have only just received their funding may need this additional time to make the most of their grants.

How to Maximize the Impact of ESSER Funds

For many schools, applying for ESSER funding is just one part of the puzzle — how do you spend your funding to make the most positive impact possible on your students? If you’re looking to effectively manage your ESSER funds this year, here are some strategies for making the most of your funds.

Ask Your Community for Ideas

Rather than simply using the funds for any of the allowable uses stated by the government, speak with parents, students, and stakeholders about what improvements they’d like to see at the school. This can include sending out surveys to parents or meeting with stakeholders to establish meaningful implementations that will benefit the students.

Allocate the Funds to One-Time Payments 

As ESSER funds have a deadline and will run out eventually, avoid using the funds for recurring expenses like teacher salaries and pay increases. Instead, they can be used for one-time or short-term payments like improvements to the outdoor playground, accommodations for children with disabilities, and sanitization products or educational resources.

Use the Funds for Valuable Changes

Since you’ll have to return leftover funds, it’s a good idea to spend as much as you can on valuable improvements for the school, students, and staff. The government provides a long list of possible uses like investing in educational technology, creating summer learning programs and addressing the unique needs of children. Apply the funds to valuable changes that will best benefit your school.

Build a New Playground with Your ESSER Funds

Using your allocated ESSER funds wisely and intentionally benefits your school’s growth. That’s why it’s essential to think carefully about planning your spending. Do you have excess ESSER funds left, or are you still deciding what will benefit your students best? We can help.

At Playworld, we provide a variety of brain-boosting and community-building play equipment that help improve physical, social, and emotional well-being and enhance educational recovery. To provide even more value for your school, we have playgrounds that are suitable for children of various physical, mental, and learning abilities. 

Our PlayCubes® Sensory Additions offer an exciting way for children to engage their senses and interact with the world around them in more exciting ways. We also have exciting PlayTown playground equipment, which we designed specifically to support the development of children of all abilities. Various distinctive components are also available if you want to be creative with your next playground project. These components include more engaging slides, protective sensory shades and exciting climbers.

Your ESSER funding can go far — to help your students learn new skills in a fun way, browse our selection of playgrounds and playground components and request a quote today.

Previous Article Prepare Your School Playground for the Warmer Months Next ArticleMaximizing Play Space in Small Parks and Urban Settings