Apr 09 2021

What K–12 Leaders Should Know When Spending Federal Funds

School districts will receive more money from the government this year, and they should be prepared to use it strategically.

The introduction of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 marked the third designation of federal funding for K–12 schools during the pandemic. Beginning March 2020, the federal government provided roughly $190 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

Already, the deadline has passed for using the first round of ESSER funds. Schools had until September 2022 to spend the $13 billion provided through the CARES Act. The deadline for ESSER II — the $54.3 billion provided through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act — is fast approaching. Schools have until September 2023 to allocate that money.

Ensure ESSER Funds Have a Lasting Effect


The $122.7 billion allocated to K–12 education as part of ESSER III is the largest amount schools have received from the federal government in COVID-19 relief funds by far. However, this funding also comes with the most guidelines and restrictions for spending. School districts have to meet certain planning criteria and use at least 20 percent of the funding to combat learning loss.

Here is how K–12 leaders can be sure they are using their federal funding correctly and getting the most out of it.

How Can Schools Meet the Criteria of the ESSER III Funding?

ESSER III funds allocated to K–12 schools in the American Rescue Plan are intended to help districts reopen their doors safely.

To receive their funding, schools must show they have a plan to bring students back, in some capacity, to in-person learning. After making a plan, schools must seek public comment on it and subsequently make the plan publicly available on their district website within 30 days of receiving ESSER III funds. To remain eligible, schools must update their plan at least every six months through the end of September 2023.

ESSER III is also the only round of ESSER funding that requires stakeholder input. Districts must make their ESSER III spending plan available to students, school staff, district administrators, families and the community.

DISCOVER: Schools have more virtual interaction with the parents of K–12 students.

When it comes to how schools spend the money, one requirement for K–12 districts receiving federal funding is that 20 percent of ESSER III funds must be spent on programs that counter learning loss.

Many schools may achieve this by allocating the money to tutoring or summer school programs, but there are creative ways to put this 20 percent toward accelerating learning.

How Schools Can Maximize Their ESSER Funds

Because ESSER III funding must be spent by September 2024, district leaders should work to create a long-term plan that maximizes their investment.

For the 20 percent of funding that must be used to address learning loss, educators should consider solutions that will have long-term impacts to get the most out of their spending.

Click the banner to discover resources for updating your school's K–12 learning environment.

Data analytics programs like BrightBytes are great tools for schools to invest in. These programs can show all student data — such as grades, test scores, GPA and attendance — on a dashboard. This allows educators to see where learning loss has occurred and which students it affects the most. The dashboard saves teachers and IT teams from having to manually input all of the data into spreadsheets and also makes it actionable. To combat learning loss, educators have to know where it exists, and data analytics programs can help them do that.

Other creative options are tools such as interactive whiteboards. Teachers in hybrid classrooms see engagement drop when students lose interest in lectures and classwork. Interactive whiteboards increase engagement and, therefore, investing in technology like the Promethean ActivPanel can be considered a strategy to prevent learning loss.

Because the funding in its totality should be used to help bring students back into the classroom, district leaders could consider spending the federal dollars on furniture. With upgrades to the classroom, schools can provide students with their own space, which meets the federal requirements and helps students learn more effectively.

Other improvements can be made to the school building as well, such as wider hallways or improved airflow. Increasing security with updated cameras can allow schools to do more accurate contract tracing and maintain students’ safety.

In creating a long-term plan, schools can spend the ESSER funds on cabling and components to update their network infrastructure. Over the next few years, the district can then be sure all of their new devices and technologies are compatible with Wi-Fi 6, instead of having to make the switch and replace everything simultaneously down the line. CDW Education’s team of experts can work with school districts to determine the best uses for ESSER III funds, helping them create a plan and enact it with a variety of available services and vendors.

This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

Illustration by Brian Stauffer, Getty Images/gorodenkoff (digital board;student top view); FatCamera (student desk); Fonikum (icons)

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