The United States Department of Education (The Department) released the application for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) on April 23, 2020.
This fund, created through the CARES Act, will award State educational agencies (SEAs) for the purpose of providing local educational agencies (LEAs), including charter schools that are LEAs, with emergency relief funds to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the Nation. The Department also released a state-by-state breakdown of the funds along with the minimum amounts a state can distribute to LEAs and maximums an SEA can reserve for statewide purchases and decisions.
To receive an ESSER Fund allocation, SEAs must submit to the Department the following information:
A completed cover sheet that includes the signature of the Chief State School Officer or authorized representative. (Part A of the Certification and Agreement)
Programmatic, fiscal, and reporting assurances. (Part B of the Certification and Agreement)
Information on the uses of ESSER funds. (Part C of the Certification and Agreement)
Other assurances and certifications. (Part D of the Certification and Agreement)
The application requires both SEAs and LEAs to provide assurances, such as additional reporting in the future, which may include: the methodology LEAs will use to provide services or assistance to students and staff in both public and non-public schools, the uses of funds by the LEAs or other entities and demonstration of their compliance with Section 18003(d), such as any use of funds addressing the digital divide, including securing access to home-based connectivity and remote-use devices, related issues in supporting remote learning for all students, including disadvantaged populations. Additionally, the SEA is required to submit to the Department, within 60 days of receiving ESSER funds, a report that will include:
A budget for the SEA’s reserve that includes information about the up to 1/2 of 1 percent of the SEA’s total grant for administrative costs and the uses of funds for emergency needs to address issues related to COVID-19; and
An Internal Control and Subrecipient Monitoring Plan to ensure that funds are used for allowable purposes in accordance with cash management principles.
The application also states that the SEA may request LEAs to include in their subgrant applications to the SEA. For example, an SEA might propose to include the following in developing its subgrant application:
How the LEA will determine its most important educational needs as a result of COVID- 19.
The LEA’s proposed timeline for providing services and assistance to students and staff in both public and non-public schools.
The extent to which the LEA intends to use ESSER funds to promote remote learning.
How the LEA intends to assess and address student learning gaps resulting from the disruption in educational services.
The idea of the certification and agreement is meant to streamline the process to attain funds, while still requiring some thought around how the funds should be used, and how decisions are being made. Once an SEA submits the signed PDF, the Department will process the Certification and Agreement and obligate funds within 3 business days. SEAs will be able to draw down these emergency funds using the Department’s G5 system. The SEA will have one year, from the date of its ESSER award, to award funds. Any funds not awarded by the SEA within one year of receiving its award will be returned to the Department to be reallocated to other States consistent with the CARES Act.
Along with the release of the application, the Department sent a letter to all state education commissioners stating that, “My Department will not micromanage how you spend these funds, but I encourage you during these challenging times to see this unprecedented disruption as an opportunity to rethink the way students access education. At a time when so many school boards and superintendents have closed campuses for the balance of the school year, it’s important to think creatively about new delivery methods and focus on investing in the technology infrastructure and professional development and training that will help all students continue to learn through some form of remote learning. Students and their families are depending on your leadership to ensure that they do not fall behind.”
With Crisis comes opportunity. It is critical for SEAs and LEAs to take a step back and use these funds and new environment to transform learning. Not only in the COVID-19 era, but for when students are back on campus. We can’t go back to what things were, students deserve more. The first step to creating a personalized learning environment for every student accelerates here, in this moment.
Join K20Connect and our partner Gaggle on May 5th to learn more about these funds and how to ensure student health and well-being are maintained while they are learning from home. Register here: https://news.gaggle.net/funding-distance-learning-webinar