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Districts Face Hurdles in Spending Record Amounts of Relief Funding

School districts now face a unique challenge with no easy solution: How to spend record amounts of federal education funding strategically, expeditiously, and in ways that benefit students.

Since March of 2020, Congress has approved three large relief measures to support K–12 schools as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The three measures—which total $190 billion—provide monies through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund (ESSER).

The third and final measure of the fund—ESSER III—totals $121.9 billion. It is the largest single federal investment ever in U.S. K–12 education.

ESSER III monies can be used for an array of activities including planning, new programs, curriculum, materials, professional development, classroom connectivity, and more. Also, ESSER III requires districts to spend at least 20% on programs that address learning loss.

While ESSER III funds have been allocated, however, much of the money has not been spent. For example, according to U.S. Department of Education data, as of April 30, most districts had spent less than 15% of their ESSER III funds and some had spent less than 5%. Meanwhile, districts face a September 30, 2024 deadline for spending the funds.

A recent report by the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBOI) outlines a variety of challenges in expending the ESSER III monies. They include spending quickly vs. spending smartly, staff shortages, and supply chain issues.

To date, there is no indication that ESSER III spending deadlines will be extended, except for major infrastructure projects that encounter significant supply chain or labor issues.

The clock is ticking, but despite the challenges involved in meeting federal deadlines, school districts are moving forward to assess local needs now and develop effective programs.

Future blogs in this series will take a look at the K–12 programs that support language learners and their teachers, as well as recent funding increases at the state and federal levels.


By Jay A. Diskey


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