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COVID-19 Education Relief Funding
What’s in It for Your School District?

School Stimulus Funding Options by State

In 2020 and 2021, Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided nearly $190.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. Those funds will help schools navigate uncharted waters in the wake of the unprecedented disruption to education caused by the global pandemic. Allocations for each state depend on the proportion that each receives under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title-IA.

Learn more about funding in your state

For information specific to your region, please select your state, or continue reading for more general guidance on COVID-19 funding for K-12 schools.

CARES Act: The first wave of relief for K-12 education

The first school stimulus bill passed on March 27, 2020. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided $13.5 billion to the ESSER fund for states to respond to the COVID-19 emergency in K-12 schools.

Early in the pandemic, schools needed to pivot quickly from traditional in-person teaching to remote instruction. Unprepared for the massive global emergency, they needed help with planning and coordinating long-term school closures. Teachers needed training on technology to support online learning for all students, and districts had to purchase instructional resources. Federal funds available to local districts were used for immediate coronavirus-response activities.

Each state also received a share of the $3 billion Governor’s Education Emergency Relief (GEER), for governors to use to provide emergency support grants to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and child care/early education providers.

Additional grant funding, Rethinking K-12 Education grants (REM), was awarded to 11 states to help students during the pandemic. The grants were intended to motivate states to create new, innovative ways for students to continue learning.

ESSER II and III: More help has arrived!

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA), the second relief bill, passed on December 27, 2020. Called the ESSER II fund, it provided $54.3 billion in supplemental funding.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), the third and most substantial bill, passed on March 11, 2021. The $122 billion ESSER III fund includes a major focus on addressing learning loss resulting from the pandemic.

ESSER III Funds Breakdown

Minimum Grants to LEAs (School Districts) $109,777,320,000
Minimum Learning Recovery $6,098,740,000
Summer Enrichment $1,219,748,000
After-School Programs $1,219,748,000
Administrative Costs $609,874,000
Remaining Funds $3,049,370,000
Homeless Students $800,000,000
Special Education State Grants $2,580,000,000
Private Schools $2,750,000,000

What can ESSER funds be used for?

ESSER funds are highly flexible and are designed to help address local relief, prevention and preparation, and recovery efforts relative to responding to COVID-19.

The supplement and not supplant requirements do not apply to LEA (local education agency/school district) use of ESSER funds. In normal times, districts can only use federal grants to pay for anything they would not already provide out of their state and local budgets. Lifting this requirement gives them much more flexibility in how they use their funds.

Districts can spend ESSER money within any of the following categories, depending on local needs:

Any activity allowed under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Title I-A, Title I-C (Migrant Education), Title I-D (Neglected and Delinquent Students), Title II-A, Title III-A (English Language Learners), Title IV-A, Title IV-B 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Title V-B REAP (SRSA and RLIS), Title VI-A (Indian Education), Title VII (Impact Aid)

Each of these grants is limited by strict rules regarding how the funds can be spent. However, since districts will have already developed their own programs based on eligibility for each of these grants, increased allocations will help them expand the services they provide for students under each of the above categories.

CARES Act (ESSER I) Sec. 18003(d) (p. 285) states that LEAs may use funds for:

Any activity allowed under the following federal education acts:

  • Special Education: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Career and Technical Education: Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act)
  • Homeless Education: McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act
  • Adult Education and Family Literacy Act
  • Native Hawaiian Education Act and the Alaska Native Educational Equity, Support, and Assistance Act

COVID-19-related relief, prevention, and recovery efforts: summary. For the full text, go to ESSER II Fact Sheet or ESSER III Fact Sheet.

  • Developing, implementing, and coordinating of preparedness and response efforts to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
  • Providing school leaders with the resources to address the needs of individual schools, low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth.
  • Training and supplies for staff to minimize the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Planning for and coordinating during long-term closures.
  • Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity).
  • Providing mental health services and supports.
  • Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs.

CRRSA Act (ESSER II), Sec. 313(c) (p. 749) states the same LEA allowable uses of ESSER I, with the following additional uses. ARP (ESSER III) funds follow the same guidelines.

  • Addressing learning loss among students.
  • Providing information and assistance to parents and families on how they can effectively support students, including in a distance learning environment.
  • Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in local educational agencies and continuing to employ existing staff of the local educational agency.

Unallowable uses of ESSER funds:

  • Funds generally cannot be used for bonuses, merit pay, or similar expenditures, unless they are related to disruptions or closures resulting from COVID-19.
  • Subsidizing or offsetting executive salaries and benefits of individuals who are not employees of the SEA or LEAs.
  • Expenditures related to state or local teacher or faculty unions or associations.

What if your district is not eligible for Title I funds?

Non–Title I LEAs (local education agencies — public or not-for-profit charter schools) can apply to their state education agencies for a portion of the ESSER funding. They have to follow the same guidelines as Title I districts. Private schools may not apply directly to the state for funding but must consult with their local public school districts to request funds for equitable services.

Can CARES Act/ESSER money be used for technology?

Absolutely. Schools have relied on technology to get them through the pandemic. Within the guidelines of the legislation, districts are expected to use the funds based on their individual needs. Many have focused on hiring additional teachers, instructional coaches, instructional assistants, counselors, nurses, custodians, and other staff to support students and their teachers. Investments in software provide districts with the tools they need to manage human capital – all the people who will help students successfully navigate the new normal.

Districts are competing with each other and even other states to find and hire the best employees. Increased recruiting and hiring lead to a greater need for software to keep up with professional growth and employee evaluation. Tracking hours worked and making sure substitutes are available to cover teacher absences manually is no longer cost-effective in today’s tech-based world. Districts are using their ESSER funds for efficient software so they can stay focused on addressing learning loss, not paperwork.

A student information system that integrates with special education and other intervention programs can go a long way toward tracking student progress. Schools are also finding that they need to find efficient ways to track student health, both to mitigate coronavirus transmission and to address increased mental and behavioral health concerns.

And then there is instructional technology — a whole new world for some teachers and school administrators who may have considered it supplemental to instruction in the past. Revamping instruction that now relies almost entirely on technology requires investment in hardware, software, staff training, and connectivity to meet the needs of all students. While the global pandemic has been a costly disaster for the entire world, perhaps the funding available to schools in response to it will turn out to be an opportunity for learning in new ways we have never considered before.

Stimulus Funding Resources: Dig Deeper

ESSER I & II Fund Potential Allowable Uses for Frontline Solutions

Esser I and II Fund Potential Allowable Uses


ESSER III Fund Potential Allowable Uses for Frontline Solutions

Esser III Fund Potential Allowable Uses


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