How ARP ESSER Funding Can Address Learning Loss

This is the third post in Lexia's ESSER funding series by Jon Hummell, National Manager of State Initiatives, Lexia Learning

This year, April will bring showers of additional funding for education.

The third pandemic stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan (ARP), was signed into law on March 11, 2021, adding more relief for education. To date, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) has received funds in each of the pandemic relief bills, the CARES Act in March 2020, CRRSA in December 2020, and now ARP:

  • ESSER I - $13.2 billion

  • ESSER II - $54.3 billion

  • ESSER III - $122 billion

How have these funds been spent to date? That’s a harder question to answer. The DOE’s CARES Act ESSER fund portal shows grants by state though November 2020 that indicate those funds have largely been awarded or spent. However, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate on ESSER I & II spending from February 2021 states, “Because most of those funds remain to be spent, CBO anticipates that the bulk of spending of funds provided in the reconciliation recommendations would occur after 2021.”

So, what’s really happening? An NPR report explains:

“Education officials from the local level all the way up to the U.S. Department of Education say it comes down to the quirks of public education finance. States reimburse school districts for qualified expenses, districts draw down funds over the course of the school year, and all of it takes time to get reported back into the federal tracking system.” 

With the pressing issue of connectivity during the initial lock-downs addressed for the most part, legislators and educators are focusing their attention, and their proposed spending, on what comes next: getting students back to in-person instruction and addressing learning loss.  

The legislation ensures state education agencies (SEAs) will have time. CARES Act funds are available for obligation by September 30, 2021; ESSER II through September 30, 2022 and ARP ESER through September 30, 2023.

How SEAs Can Spend ARP ESSER Funds 

Each round of funding legislation has designated allowable uses, but the scope has expanded with each round. The original 12 allowable uses in ESSER I were expanded to 15 in ESSER II. The DOE advises that ARP ESSER expands them even further to 21 allowable uses, including:

  • Investing in resources to implement CDC's K-12 operational strategy for in-person learning to keep educators, staff, and students safe; improving ventilation; purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE); and obtaining additional space to ensure social distancing in classrooms.

  • Avoiding devastating layoffs and hiring additional educators to address learning loss, providing support to students and existing staff, and providing sufficient staffing to facilitate social distancing.

  • Funding crucial summer, afterschool, and other extended learning and enrichment programs.

  • Hiring additional school personnel, such as nurses and custodial staff, to keep schools safe and healthy.

  • Providing for social distancing and safety protocols on buses.

  • Funding for Wi-Fi hotspots and devices for students without connectivity for remote learning and supporting educators in the effective use of technology.

  • Implementing strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students hit hardest by the pandemic, including through evidence-based interventions and critical services like community schools.

Ensuring Interventions are Evidence-Based

The ARP ESSER funds come with an additional requirement: At least 20% of district funds must be used to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions that support students’ academic and social and emotional learning (SEL) needs.

The scope of learning loss is unknown as of yet, but indications are worrying. As reported by McKinsey, assessment provider NWEA found that U.S. students may have lost, on average, three months of learning in math and 1.5 months in reading because of shutdowns in the spring.  

As they plan for how to allocate ESSER dollars for the future, educators will be looking for tools and resources that meet the standard of evidence-based interventions to qualify for ARP ESSER funds. One unbiased source on programs that meet the standard is nonprofit, Evidence for ESSA

Not many EdTech providers have programs that have earned Strong ratings at both the elementary and secondary level from Evidence for ESSA. Their analysis estimates that Lexia's programs have the largest impact on student reading outcomes, as measured by the average effect sizes. 

Here are some of the reasons why Lexia® Core5® Reading and PowerUp Literacy® solutions are well suited for this uniquely challenging task: 

States are also driving higher standards for evidence-based interventions. The Florida DOE recently updated its CARES/ESSER grant criteria for K-3 reading programs to require evidence of effectiveness, AND an effect size of .20 at a minimum. Placing the emphasis on the size of the effect helps educators understand the strength of the intervention and the potential impact on student outcomes.

Not Just Catch Up, Acceleration

As schools return to regular in-person instruction this spring, educators will be able to assess the realities of learning loss and determine the right interventions for their students.

A feature in the Washington Post points out that the availability of funding has educators “rethinking what the great catch-up should look like, with many shifting the focus from remediation to acceleration.”

“With remediation, the goal is to make up what a child missed the first time around. Some call it meeting students “where they are.” The problem is students may never catch up. Accelerated learning, by contrast, seeks to make grade-level work accessible to those who are behind through a combination of intensive help and modifications.”

A well-designed structured literacy curriculum like Lexia’s has the flexibility to both meet students where they are and help them to accelerate forward to current class level or beyond. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure how you’re going to address learning loss, talk to a Lexia literacy expert to learn how you can use your ESSER funds and Lexia's personalized literacy solutions to flexibly deliver research-proven literacy instruction in your school or district.


–Jon Hummell, National Manager of State Initiatives, Lexia Learning

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