Funding After ESSER
You’ll remember the big headlines when ESSER funds were first announced: “School districts to receive millions in relief funds…,” “Billions earmarked to help kids in the pandemic…”
After three rounds of funding spanning three years, the increased flow of federal dollars may have begun to feel like a new normal. As the most visible signs of the pandemic are waning, we are also coming to the end of the ESSER relief funding period. The headlines, however, are treating this return to pre-pandemic federal spending as another emergency.
Much of the current press about the ending of ESSER funds refers to this as a “fiscal cliff.” Understandably, those eager for a continuation of the increased funding may be boosting this message. While the sentiment is appreciated, the doomsday hyperbole is neither helpful nor reality-based.
The last round of ESSER funding is set to end in 2024, more than a year away. Many states are poised to increase funding or funding is simply returning to pre-pandemic levels. In the meantime, several circumstances in K–12 schools can potentially impact the transition back to pre-pandemic funding levels.
Enrollment is going down
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics has shown declining public school enrollment since COVID-19’s onset. Between the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 school years more than 700,000 fewer students enrolled in public schools, a 2.9% decline. However, many states are moving to increase per-student spending.
There is a teacher shortage
ABC News reports that more than three-quarters of U.S. states are experiencing a teacher shortage. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report about pandemic learning published in June 2022 estimated public education lost about 7% of its total teaching population (233,000 instructors) between 2019 and 2021.
Administrators will need to be cognizant of the additional stresses and loads being felt by current teachers. A renewed commitment to tools like professional development and accessible classroom resources will be even more important to support those teachers and to maintain or improve retention.
ESSR 3 does not expire until late 2024
ESSER 3, part of the American Recovery Plan, is still distributing funds and will continue to do so until the end of September 2024. With more than a year to go, there is plenty of time for school leaders to carefully consider how the remaining funds should be used.
The third round of ESSER funding had the broadest definition of allowable uses. Further advice from the DoE indicates schools can make purchases with ESSER funds that include multiyear contracts and services purchased now can continue to be received long after the deadline passes.
That is good news, because the lasting effects of the pandemic are still being felt by students and the final round of ESSER funding represents a welcome opportunity to help.
Disrupted learning impacts linger
Reports have shown the pandemic caused significant levels of learning loss in reading and mathematics for all students. Along with this, Emergent Bilinguals (also known as English Language Learners) and historically underserved students have been especially impacted by the gap in schooling.
These urgent needs are recognized in the allowable uses for ESSER funding, with 20% required to be allocated to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions that support students’ academic and emotional learning (SEL) needs.
The right investment choices will allow state and district leaders to use the last of the ESSER funding to create lasting, sustainable change that empowers teachers and enhances student learning. The key will be making informed, evidence-backed decisions for maximum pandemic recovery impact. Our recommendations are discussed in this podcast, Your Share of the Stimulus Wallet.
Alignment with Allowable Uses
While prior ESSER round spending may have been driven by urgent needs related to remote instruction, school hygiene, and devices and/or internet access, spending for this final round should be focused on longer-term investment.
There are three allowable uses that offer districts and schools the best opportunity to invest in teachers and students. Lexia® offers solutions that are evidence-proven to deliver the benefits targeted by these allowable uses.
- Accelerate learning—In the 2019-2020 school year, Lexia® Core5® Reading helped prevent learning loss and accelerated reading growth for all pre-K–5 students during the pandemic. In fact, 80% of students using Core5 did not experience learning loss.
- Equitable instruction—More than 20 externally reviewed research studies prove Lexia helps all students learn regardless of race/ethnicity, socio-economic, Emergent Bilingual, or special education status.
- Professional learning—The Lexia LETRS® Suite, our evidence-based literacy professional learning solution for pre-K through third-grade teachers, shows teachers and administrators how to implement instructional routines and activities that differentiate instruction to meet the literacy needs of all students.
ARP ESSER: A Lasting Gift
While no one would characterize the COVID-19 pandemic as a positive, perhaps a small silver lining can be found in the attention and focus the experience has directed toward evidence-based interventions, the need for equitable instruction, and ways to support teachers in delivering differentiated instruction.
Scary headlines aside, the ESSER relief funds will sunset in 2024. Student need for targeted interventions to address learning loss persists and there is still ample time to act.
Funds requested now can ensure current needs are addressed and the DoE’s allowance of multiyear contracts means schools can invest in solutions to provide ongoing support for students and teachers into the future.
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