Posted May 9, 2023
Blog / Building Coherent Strategies
District Use of ESSER Funds: Concerns about Impact and Program Sustainability
In 2020, the federal government passed three separate laws that each allocated significant resources to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, commonly referred to as ESSER.
Nationally, $190 billion in federal emergency aid was provided to states through the ESSER funds in support of public elementary and secondary education, which represents the single largest investment ever in public education. And, importantly, the vast majority of these funds went to high-need communities. During a time of crisis brought on by COVID-19, ESSER has provided schools and districts with critical support to hire additional staff, provide expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer, expand college and career readiness options, purchase technology, upgrade facilities, and invest in professional development.
With ESSER funds scheduled to sunset in September of 2024, schools and districts are faced with the challenge of finding continued funding for those strategies that are making a difference for students. To learn how districts have been using their funds, assessing impact, and planning to sustain effective programming after the ESSER funds sunset, FourPoint interviewed leaders from three medium to large districts—Montgomery County Public Schools (MD), where FourPoint president Scott Joftus served on the board of education during 2022, and Charles County Public Schools (MD) and Fayette County Public School (KY), which are both recent FourPoint clients.
FourPoint’s sustainability framework and technical assistance can help districts engage stakeholders, assess performance of investments, and plan strategically as they use their remaining ESSER funds and continue effective programs when the ESSER funds are gone.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MD)
MCPS borders Washington, DC to the northwest and serves approximately 160,000 students. According to Ivon Alfonso Windsor, MCPS’ Budget Unit Supervisor, since ESSER funds became available at different times of the pandemic, MCPS’ use of the funds evolved:
ESSER I (about $24 million) was used primarily to help with the transition to virtual learning, ensuring that every student had a computer and hotspot if necessary.
ESSER II (about $112 million) was primarily used for summer school and tutoring (including compensatory education for students receiving special education services) and technology as the district realized the need to address students’ learning loss.
ESSER III ($252 million) continued some of these investments, but the district also began planning for longer term. For example, MCPS invested in a virtual academy, which will be an ongoing option for students who wish to continue virtual learning. ESSER III funding has also been used to fund mental health workers and a virtual mental health program as well as a social-emotional learning curriculum and restorative justice training for educators and staff. Alfonso Windsor noted that the district is already looking into how to continue to shift spending for these critical initiatives into the operating budget.