Frequently Asked Questions about the
Elementary and Secondary
Relief Fund (ESSER Fund)
As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress established and appropriated a total of $13.2 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. ESSER funds are distributed to states based on each state's proportionate share of Title I, Part A (Title I-A) funding from 2019. ESSER funds are intended to support COVID-19 response efforts and may be spent on a wide range of allowable activities.
A charter school that is an LEA, as defined in section 8101(30) of the ESEA, may receive an ESSER formula subgrant like any other LEA. A new or significantly expanded charter school LEA in the 2020-2021 school year is eligible to receive an ESSER formula subgrant in accordance with ESEA section 4306 and 34 CFR §76.792. (For more information on allocating funds to new charter schools, see the Technical Appendix.) A charter school that is not an LEA may not receive a formula subgrant, but it may receive support under ESSER through the LEA of which it is a part.
Yes, school districts that receive CARES Act funding, including ESSER funds, must consult with and provide equitable services to nonpublic schools. LEAs must retain control of the funding and items purchased with such funds.
- Implement systems to improve LEA preparedness and response efforts;
- Plan for and coordinate operations during long-term closures, including how to provide meals, technology for online learning, guidance for carrying out IDEA requirements, and providing educational services consistent with applicable requirements;
- Purchase educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students;
- Plan and implement summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs;
No. The ESSER Fund is a separate Federal program. ESSER funds must be awarded and tracked separately from Title I, Part A funds.
A wide range of entities, including LEAs and organizations serving students and families, may be a “subrecipient” of funds from the SEA Reserve. A “subrecipient” includes any entity that receives a subgrant or contract consistent with applicable State and Federal subgrant and procurement standards. Entities interested in learning more about an SEA’s intended use of its reserve should contact the SEA.
Under the CARES Act, eligible recipients include school districts and charter schools. Pursuant to the CARES Act, public schools that did not receive Title I, Part A funding, either because of ineligibility or a decision to decline funding, will not receive a grant.
After a completed ESSER application is submitted in eGrants, the State Department of Education will promptly move applications through the federally required approval process. As with all federal funds, payments will be disbursed on a monthly schedule. ESSER funding is retroactive to March 13; therefore, the initial payment may be larger and reflect monthly allocations between March 13 and the date of application approval.
- Spring 2020: The Department makes initial awards
- SEAs make awards as soon as practicable
- Spring 2021: States return funds not awarded
- Spring/ Summer 2021: The Department makes reallocation awards
- Sept. 30, 2021: Last date the Department can make awards
- Sept. 30, 2022: Last date SEA, LEA, or other subgrantee can obligate funds
ESSER funds are available for obligation by LEAs and other subrecipients through September 30, 2022, which includes the Tydings period
Yes. SEAs must award ESSER formula subgrants to LEAs within one year of receiving the State allocation. An SEA must also make awards with its SEA Reserve within one year of receiving the State allocation. Any funds that the SEA fails to award by the one-year deadline must be returned to the Department for reallocation consistent with the CARES Act.
Yes. An LEA must file a local application with the SEA in order to receive an ESSER formula subgrant.3 For information about what an SEA must include in its local application for an ESSER formula subgrant, please refer to the ESSER Fund Certification and Agreement.
No. Although an LEA receives ESSER formula funds via the Title I, Part A formula, ESSER formula funds are not Title I, Part A funds and are not subject to Title I, Part A requirements. The CARES Act authorizes a broad array of potential uses of ESSER formula funds under a number of Federal education statutes; no associated statutory requirements of any of those programs apply to ESSER funds.
Yes. PDE will monitor the use of ESSER funds. In addition, ESSER funds are subject to Single Audit Act requirements.
No. The ESSER Fund provides a broad, permissive list of allowable LEA activities in Section 18003(d). SEAs do not have the authority to limit the uses of ESSER formula funds.
Yes. The CARES Act does not define how an LEA distributes funds to schools. An LEA may support any school in the district or it may target funds based on poverty, indication of school needs, or other targeting measures.
Yes. Please see the document “Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in NonPublic Schools under the CARES Act Programs” for more information.
No. The requirements of Title I, Part A do not apply to ESSER funds. An LEA may support any of its schools using ESSER funds for any allowable activities under 18003(d) without regard to Title I eligibility, program type, or funding.
No. The ESSER Fund does not contain a supplanting prohibition. As a result, ESSER funds may take the place of State or local funds for allowable activities. However, the program does contain a Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement, which is designed to keep States from substantially reducing their support for K-12 education. 4 4 For further information, please see Section 18008 of the CARES Act.
An SEA awards funds when it makes a subgrant to an LEA or, in the case of the SEA Reserve, when it enters into a subgrant or contract with a sub-recipient. ESSER funds are obligated when the sub-recipient commits those funds to specific purposes consistent with 34 C.F.R. § 76.707. If an SEA awards a contract from the SEA reserve, that is an obligation. In contrast, sub granting funds to an LEA or other sub-recipient is not an obligation; rather, these funds are not obligated until the LEA or other sub-recipient commits the funds to specific purposes.
Yes. The Department will monitor the use of ESSER funds. In addition, ESSER funds are subject to audit requirements under the Single Audit Act and to review by the Government Accountability Office. The Department’s Office of the Inspector General may audit program implementation, as may any other federal agency, commission, or department in the lawful exercise of its jurisdiction and authority.
Yes. The U.S. Department of Education requests the following reporting components:
- How LEAs determined their most important educational needs as a result of COVID-19;
- The extent to which LEAs used ESSER funds to promote remote learning; and
- How the LEA assessed and addressed student learning gaps resulting from the disruption in educational services.
This act provides LEAs with $123 billion of funding for educational expenses that meet the guidelines of the bill; states and districts can use these funds to make technology investments.
According to the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, more than half of public school districts surveyed needed to update or replace multiple building systems – and over 20% of technology infrastructure in public schools were in “fair” or “poor” condition.
Up to 80% of ESSER III funds can be used to address schools’ technology needs and challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic including purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity as well as assistive technology or adaptive equipment, and implementing public health protocols including policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for school-reopening
Any activity authorized by the ESEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), or the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins).
- Coordination of LEA preparedness and response efforts with state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments, and other relevant agencies, to improve coordinated responses with other agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
- Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.
- Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of LEAs.
- Training and professional development for LEA staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
- Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of an LEA, including buildings operated by such agency.
- Planning for, coordinating, and implementing activities during long-term closures, including how to provide meals, technology for online learning, guidance on IDEA requirements, and ensuring other educational services can continue to be provided consistent with all applicable requirements.
- Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students served by the LEA that aids in regular and substantive educational interactions between students and their classroom teachers, including low-income students and children with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment.
- Providing mental health services and supports, including through the implementation of evidence-based full-service community schools.
- Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after school programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.
- Addressing learning loss among students, including low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care, of the local educational
- Administering and using high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable, to accurately assess students’ academic progress and assist educators in meeting students’ academic progress and assist educators in meeting students’ academic needs, including through differentiating instruction.
- Implementing evidence-based activities to meet the comprehensive needs of students.
- Providing information and assistance to parents and families on how they can effectively support students, including in a distance learning environment.
- School facility repairs and improvements to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards, and to support student health needs.
- Inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement, and upgrade projects to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and non-mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification, and other air cleaning, fans, control systems, and window and door repair and replacement.
- Developing strategies and implementing public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff
- Other activities that are necessary to maintain operations and continuity of services and continuing to employ existing staff.
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