ESSER/GEER guidance highlights
In late May, The U.S. Department of Education released guidance to states and school districts about the use of the multiple federal funds authorized for pandemic response and relief. A review of this guidance clarifies some questions about use of the funds. The guidance itself is not law, but it outlines USDOE interpretation of the laws and how funds may be used.
ESSER and GEER funds may be used for a wide range of allowable activities, a full list of which is available in the guidance on pages 10-12. One clarification states that where funds are authorized to be used for “children with disabilities,” this means children eligible under IDEA and Section 504.
The last listed item on allowable uses of funds is, “Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services in the LEA and continuing to employ existing staff of the LEA.” A footnote explains this includes using ESSER funds to avoid layoffs.
The Department goes into more detail that both ESSER and GEER funds may be used to pay teacher salaries and prevent layoffs. This includes other supportable activities in Question D-1 (p.46). The next question, D-2, states that health support staff, such as “…counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health support staff” are included.
The guidance notes, “…an LEA should consider ways that will build short- and long-term capacity and be sustained after the funding is no longer available.” School districts may provide the services directly or by entering into a contract. Subgrants of these funds are not authorized.
Construction and ventilation
Funds may be used for new construction, renovation and remodeling, with the approval of ODE or the Governor’s office. Improvements must be for the purpose of preparing, preventing or responding to COVID-19. Improvements may include HVAC and ventilation testing and work to upgrade or alter existing systems.
If used for HVAC improvements, projects must comply with ASHRAE standards. Making improvements to improve cleaning, such as removing carpet, are approved. (See questions B-6 and B-7)
Modular units may be purchased using federal funds. All projects must comply with federal procurement standards and must pay prevailing wage.
Supporting special education students
The guidance provides specific examples of ways ESSER and GEER funds may be used to provide services and support students with disabilities, whether they have an IEP or 504 plan. These may include hiring additional people to conduct evaluations if they were backlogged or providing transition services.
One interesting suggestion is for transition services and programs, including “coordination of services with agencies involved in supporting the transition of children with disabilities to postsecondary activities.”
If your district had issues due to the pandemic of providing work experience, internships, workshops, or life skills training for students preparing to graduate, these funds may be used to provide those experiences now. This may occur through extended school year services, if necessary.
A (non-exhaustive) list of activities for which the funds may be used may be found at questions C-5 and C-6 of the guidance.
Students who are migratory, homeless, or in foster care
These students may have had trouble accessing instruction via the use of technology and may have simply stopped attending. ESSER and GEER funds may be used to provide outreach to ensure better engagement. This includes better access to technology, including broadband, and for lost instructional time, tutoring and even transportation.
ESSER and GEER funds may be used to assist districts in developing data quality systems to track attendance, analyze and publish data, and monitor trends for early warning signs based on key student indicators.
Other miscellaneous guidance
The guidance make several interesting miscellaneous points for which ESSER and GEER funds may be used:
- Food service (to the extent USDA or other federal program funds are not available), including packaging for grab and go meals, costs of transportation, and additional staff and equipment.
- Paying college application fees for economically-disadvantaged students
- For students who graduated in 2020 or 2021, districts may provide college or career counseling, assistance with entry to job training programs or college applications, financial literacy and more.
- Re-engaging students who have not participated in remote learning and programs to reduce community violence to address social, emotional, mental health and behavioral issues.
- Paying staff overtime to safely reopen schools and keep them open.
There are many specific questions which cannot be addressed in this format, as well as timelines for use of the various funds authorized under different programs.
The guidance may be reviewed here: https://tinyurl.com/4d3ykh2x