ESSER FAQs: Understanding the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and COVID Relief

understanding esser and covid relief

As educators, you’re likely aware that there are funds being allocated to schools and districts across the country as part of the COVID relief bills that have been signed into law over the last year. However many teachers and schools may not be aware of how much money is available, how to access it, or when funds are available. While the requests for funds take place at the state and district levels, it is still important for teachers to understand the process, and—especially for music educators—how to ensure that your programs can be supported and communicate your needs. Below is essential information and a list of resources for teachers to better understand the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER and ESSER II).

What is ESSER?

When the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law on March 27, 2020, the Department of Education allocated $30.75 billion in funds to a fund called the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF). Of the money set aside for the ESF, $13.2 billion was allotted to Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds. The remaining funds from the ESF were allocated between Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) and Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER).

The ESSER grants are awarded to State Educational Agencies (SEAs), and school districts, or Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), must apply to their respective SEA to receive the funds.

What is ESSER II? 

The second COVID relief bill, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), was signed into law on Dec. 27, 2020. This bill extended and modified several provisions in the CARES Act, and authorized an additional $54.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER II).

Note: ESSER II funds cannot be used until original ESSER funds are spent. ESSER funds are still available—check out this dashboard of ESSER funding that has been allocated and spent by each state and territory.

How much money is available for each state?

ESSER and ESSER II Fund awards to SEAs are in the same proportion as each State received funds under Part A of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

To track funds and see a state-by-state breakdown, refer to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Tracker. Also see the State Allocations Table.

What is the timeline for applying for and receiving funds?

ESSER funds are available through September 30, 2022. The SEAs began receiving funds from the Department of Education last Spring, and funds are being dispersed to LEAs in April–June 2021. SEAs must award the ESSER funds to LEAs within one year of receiving the state allocation. Any funds that SEAs fail to award by the one-year deadline must be returned to the Department for reallocation consistent with the CARES Act.

Similarly, ESSER II funds are available for obligation by SEAs through September 30, 2023. SEAs must also award ESSER II funds within one year of receiving them.

For more information and a timeline of using ESSER Funds, view this FAQ Doc and this Fact Sheet from the Office of Elementary & Secondary Education.

Can funds be used to reimburse costs incurred prior to receiving the funds?

Yes, both ESSER and ESSER II funds may be applied to allowed expenditures incurred on or after March 13, 2020, which is when the President first declared a national emergency.

How can music programs use the funds?

Funding can be used for health and safety, cleaning and sanitation, facility improvements, technology, instructional support, and summer programs. Schools must prove that the district (LEA) can conduct music programs safely virtually and/or in-person. Uses may include:

  • Additional/replacement instruments and equipment to avoid student sharing
  • Technology, EdTech devices, and software for virtual learning 
  • Supplies for cleaning and sanitation (for instruments, equipment, rooms)
  • Facilities improvements
  • Instructional support
  • Summer and remediation programs for students
  • Purchase bell covers, masks, PPE for in-person use
  • Teacher training for re-opening & in-person instruction
  • Pay for teachers who can help with remedial instruction (eg. private, adjunct, PT or FT personnel)
  • Materials to create social distancing environments e.g. outdoor tents, media cart, microphones, projectors, and more

For an extensive list of eligible costs, visit NAfME’s COVID Relief Funding in the Music Classroom.

Who is eligible for ESSER Funds? 

Public, Charter, and Nonprofit K-12 schools. 

Who should teachers contact regarding the status of a school or district’s funds? 

Teachers should contact Visual & Performing Arts Coordinators, principals, and/or other liaisons who communicate with the district (LEA). 

Links and Resources:

Music Education Advocacy Resources

The COVID relief legislation provides the largest amount of funding that the federal government has ever granted to K-12 schools. As music teachers, you are the best advocates for your programs, and the best representatives to communicate you and your students’ needs. We encourage music educators to engage with their school’s administrators to ensure that their programs are supported and accounted for.

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