The Final Countdown: GEER Edition

GEER funds
(Image credit: Pixabay)

If there was ever a time to slam on the synthesizer as loud as possible – it’s now.

Last month I did all I could to sound the alarm, blow the horn, scream at the top of my lungs that the time to spend money out of the GEER I fund stimulus was upon us. Now, we are officially one month away from those funds going back to the federal government, so I thought we should take a look at how the dollars have or have not been spent.

GEER & ESSER Funding: Where Are We One Month Later? 

In my last piece (The Time to Obligate ESSER Funds is Now), I stated the following amounts were left in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund: Colorado: approximately $25 million; Maryland: approximately $30 million; and Georgia: approximately $45 million.

Let’s take a look at where we are approximately a month later:

  • Colorado: Same amount remaining 
  • Maryland: Same amount remaining 
  • Georgia: Approximately $5.5 million, so props to them for spending some, but this happened on August 22, 2022 -- the day I am writing this article. Gov. Kemp just announced that he would be allocating $36.5 million to “address learning loss.” The press release states that this money is going to organizations such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and the Georgia Department of Education. 

Getting the money spent is good, but there is concern on how this type of blanket and untargeted spending will help students to recover what was lost and why the funds were allocated. 

What Does This Mean?

As I’ve tried to make sense of this for the last four months as the obligation date was moving closer and closer, these are concerns I’ve had, specifically about the stimulus funds.

It was too much too fast. Advocates in the education realm have long lobbied for additional funding at every level. State and district education leaders were not set up to handle the flood of funding allocated on such a tight deadline. Even if plans were in place on how to spend the money, several administrative processes got in the way. The ambiguity from the U.S. Department of Education on processes (which was meant for freedom and local control on how to use the funds) ended up being something that actually made leaders hesitant to spend funds rather than be empowered. Even worse, decisions have been rushed, and the impact of the dollars could be minimal.

Governors don’t really know what districts need money for. COVID school closures thrust state-level leaders directly into the power of funds over school districts. At the time, this seemed like a great idea as they would be able to allocate for state-wide initiatives or support districts as needed, either through setting up a competitive grant or using a formula to distribute monies for each district. The problem arose with the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund after the urgent needs of COVID passed. The Hunt Institute released a resource to identify how the funds were being spent, and after the needs of connectivity, some building maintenance (HVAC, cleaning, etc.), and safety protocols, most governors weren’t sure what else the districts needed money for.

This is only Round I; I am concerned about Round II. We have a whole year ahead of GEER II funds. I haven’t said much about ESSER funds because those (mostly) have been obligated. Districts had an idea for what they needed with those dollars. (For example, Maryland has approximately $20 million in GEER II and has spent 0.0%-- and multiple states have spent very little in GEER II while still holding those significant funds in GEER I).

We need to create a strategy as a field to help governors and state leaders understand where the money would best be spent going forward.

What Can We Do?

District leaders need to be asking for these dollars. (I’ll help you write a letter, just reach out!) 

Since governors and their staff don’t know your needs, it’s time to tell them. If you can clearly state what you need the dollars for and how it aligns with the governor’s education vision for the state, there should not be an issue in getting these dollars awarded. Use your stakeholders to help get the attention of the governor -- parents, constituents, your state senator and representative, and local city council members. Make the ask before your governor is so rushed to spend the money that the impact for your students is missed.

This is it, folks. One month and the funds go back. The U.S. Department of Education could create more competitive federal grants with the money, or they could decide to move the money somewhere else because it would appear that education leaders had what they needed. We don’t know what will happen, so we need to take advantage of the funds while they are still in our control.

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.