ESSER Funding: 5 Ways to Use it to Address Learning Loss

ESSER funding
(Image credit: Unsplash: Santi Vedri)

Out of all the states in the country, less than 10 are waiting on access to the second round of stimulus funds, appropriated in December of 2020. Districts across the country are planning and spending these dollars to begin addressing learning loss and social emotional needs of students. So how will these funds help?

Here are the top 5 challenges district leaders shared with state policymakers on how these funds would address critical needs for their districts.

1. More instructional staff: Small-group and differentiated learning will be key to accelerating learning, and this requires additional staff. High-quality professional development is needed to equip teachers for the challenge.

2. More time: Extending the school year and/or extending school hours in the coming academic years will be a necessary part of the effort.

3. More wrap-around services: Counselors and social workers will be critically important to help students cope with trauma they may have experienced during the pandemic (loss of a loved one, family loss of income, eviction, etc.).

4. More technology resources: While the explosion in the number of students with devices holds exciting possibilities for learning, additional devices must be supported with additional software and IT staff. Local districts will need the flexibility, discretion, and support to purchase instructional materials that accelerate learning.

5. Necessary facility improvements: There are smart investments schools can make to address air quality, shared surfaces, and other safety practices that can help prevent the spread of future viruses as well as regularly recurring coughs, colds, and flu strains that lead to lost time in the classroom. 

Texas is an example of a state with a diverse range of communities and student populations that has shared these requests with state policymakers. The advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas wrote, “As we use federal education funds to prevent the health crisis from becoming a generational education crisis, school districts must be given the flexibility to target the specific needs of their families and bolster their local economies.”

Denton Independent School District Superintendent Jamie Wilson was involved in this advocacy. His district developed a plan for ESSER funds to address learning gaps in students through an accelerated instruction plan. Details include additional days, curriculum adaptations, professional development and credit recovery. Denton ISD anticipates an overall operating cost of $9.17 million to serve just over 30,000 students, with $4.6 million alone on high school credit recovery.

Texas is one of many states currently in a holding pattern. Many other districts are trying to plan for these funds without any timeline for when they are going to receive them. Like many other states, Raise your Hand Texas compares the stimulus funds to the vital “third leg” of a stool to support their overall programs. 

Now is an excellent time for advocacy work at the state level. Looking for guidance? FiscalNote is a good place to start. This global technology and media company offers some advocacy strategies to consider when starting an advocacy campaign. Even if your district has received funds, the state set-asides are being used to address learning loss as well. In order to stretch federal funds the furthest, districts and states must be communicating and working together.  

Susan Gentz

Susan comes from a strong policy background as a former staffer in the United States Senate and Legislative Aide in the Iowa House of Representatives. 

Along with experience at both federal and state levels, she served as the Deputy Executive Director for the Center for Digital Education, worked for a government relations firm in Arlington, VA and heavily worked on federal and state education policy at iNACOL, where she wrote published reports to move the field forward with innovative learning models, best practices, and policy recommendations.