How States Are Helping School Districts Maximize Federal K-12 Relief

May 17, 2021

States, school districts and charter schools will be receiving $190 billion in federal aid from the three relief packages passed since March 2020. The bulk of the funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) will be flowing through states to districts and charters. This means that while local districts have the final say in how most of the funds will be spent, state leaders have the pivotal role of assisting local districts as they put this historic investment to work to support students and educators.

Here are a few of those roles and examples of states leading the way.

Provide clear guidance, priorities and technical assistance for districts.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) requires local districts to release plans for a safe return to in-person instruction within 30 days of receiving funds. Some state education agencies or state councils have supported districts by releasing a plan that offers a comprehensive vision for a safe return to in-person instruction. These plans often include priorities or values, equity statements, and discussion of how federal resources can be used effectively. Some examples include:

Facilitate meaningful consultation with stakeholders and the public.

Effective planning will benefit from input from students, educators, families and many different perspectives. The American Rescue Plan requires states and local districts to develop ESSER plans that meaningfully engage in stakeholder consultation and take public input into account. The diverse voices states and districts might consider include civil rights organizations and stakeholders representing English learners, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, and migratory students. To maximize the likelihood of input, engagement opportunities should be offered in multiple languages, on more than one day and after the school day. Some examples include:

    • Alaska: ARP state plan development includes webinars, three virtual engagement opportunities in the evening, and a survey in multiple languages.
    • Kentucky: ARP ESSER consultation survey is in English and Spanish.

Create statewide programs and initiatives for using federal funds.

Governors and state legislatures can create statewide programs for accelerating student learning. They can designate the state’s share of federal funds to support these programs, make federal funding a permissible use for local districts, or both. Some examples include:

    • Arkansas: Act 912 establishes a statewide tutoring program, called the Arkansas Tutoring Corps, to address interrupted learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state will issue guidance to districts for using federal ESSER funds to provide compensation and stipends to tutors.
    • California: The Learning Loss Mitigation Fund (authorized by the 2020-21 budget package) blends federal relief from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and Coronavirus Relief Fund to support student academic achievement and to interrupted learning related to COVID-19 school closures.
    • New Jersey: 5147 (in Senate) would provide grants, called the Alleviating Learning Loss in New Jersey Grant, to school districts for the creation or expansion of summer learning programs. Grants would be funded by federal aid to the extent permissible by federal law.
    • North Carolina: B. 82 (signed by the governor) requires every school district to offer a school extension learning recovery and enrichment program. The legislation dedicates ESSER II funds held by the state to support the program and permits school districts to use federal relief for these services.

By working in close partnership, state, school district, and school leaders can engage with students and families and invest federal resources to accelerate student learning and meet the needs of their communities.

Author profile

Chris Duncombe

Chris Duncombe

Principal |

Chris focuses on K-12 school finance as a principal at Education Commission of the States. Chris has 10 years of experience working on fiscal policy at the state and local level with a focus on school funding, and his previous research in Virginia informed state policymakers in their design of equity-based school funding. Chris believes in the power of diverse, well-resourced learning environments and the key role school finance plays in setting the stage for student success.

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