ESSER III Federal Relief Funds: An Overview

ESSER III Federal Relief Funds: An Overview

The federal government has approved nearly $18 billion in federal relief funds for Texas public schools. The relief funds are meant to help schools recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal relief funds have been provided for various purposes throughout the pandemic. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds were approved through three acts:

  1. ESSER I: Grant program authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020.
  2. ESSER II: Grant program authorized in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) in December 2020.
  3. ESSER III: Grant program authorized by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021, enacted on March 11, 2021. It’s sometimes referred to as ARP ESSER.

Each source of funding has different requirements, and this article only addresses ESSER III funding. Additional information about other ESSER grant programs is available from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

ESSER III funds release

On April 28, TEA announced the release of $11.2 billion appropriated for public education in Texas. Two-thirds of the total federal appropriation to Texas under ESSER III is available now. The remaining third will be released after the U.S Department of Education (ED) approves TEA’s required state plan.

Where can I find my district’s allocation of ESSER III funding?

TEA maintains an Entitlements page with a link to Grant Allocation Amounts by local education agency (LEA) that lists each district’s allocation.

Are there spending requirements on ESSER III funds?

Districts can use ESSER III funds for a wide variety of purposes to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools.

Each district must spend at least 20% of its ESSER III funds for the following:

  • Addressing learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or extended school year programs; and
  • Ensuring that such interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the student subgroups described in ESEA, Title 1, Part A, students experiencing homelessness, and youth in foster care.

Districts are subject to a maintenance of equity (MOQ or MOEquity) requirement, absent an exemption. ED recently issued MOQ guidance.

How does my district get its ESSER III funding?

Each district must file an application with two required plans through TEA Grant Opportunities by July 27.

What deadlines apply to ESSER III funding?

  • Application deadline: July 27, 2021
  • Website Posting of Both Plans: Within 30 days of receiving Notice of Grant Award (NOGA)
  • Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan Review and Revision, as appropriate: Every six months until September 30, 2023.
  • Deadline to Use Funds: September 30, 2024

What plans are required under ESSER III?

Use of Funds Plan

This plan must describe the following:

  • The extent to which and how the funds will be used to implement prevention and mitigation strategies that are, to the greatest extent practicable, consistent with the most recent CDC guidance on reopening schools, in order to continuously and safely open and operate schools for in-person learning;
  • How the district will use the required 20 percent to address the academic impact of lost instructional time through the implementation of evidence-based interventions;
  • How the district will spend its remaining ESSER III funds consistent with the authorized uses; and
  • How the district will ensure that the interventions it implements will respond to the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of all students, and particularly those students disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including students from low-income families, students of color, English learners, children with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, and migratory students.

Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan

All districts, including those that have returned to in-person instruction, must create a plan that addresses the following:

  • How the district will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other school and district staff, and the extent to which the district has adopted policies, and a description of any such policies, on each of the CDC’s safety recommendations; and
  • How the district will ensure continuity of services, including but not limited to services to address students’ academic needs and students’ and staff social, emotional, mental health and other needs, which may include student health and food services.

Are there any special requirements related to the plans?

Stakeholder input

Each district must engage in meaningful consultation with specified stakeholders and give the public an opportunity to provide input in plan development. The stakeholders must include students, families, school and district administrators (including special education administrators), teachers, principals, school leaders, other educators, and school staff. Additionally, a district must engage in meaningful consultation with each of the following, to the extent these groups are present in or served by the district: tribes, civil rights organizations (including disability rights organizations), and stakeholders representing the interests of children with disabilities, English learners, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students.

Website posting

A district may post the application schedules reflecting the district’s plans or a summary of the required information.

Formatting and translation

The plans must be in an understandable and uniform format; to the extent practicable, written in a language that parents can understand or, if not practicable to provide a written translation, orally translated; and upon request by a parent who is an individual with a disability, provided in an alternative format accessible to that parent.

Where can I get additional information on ESSER III funding?

This document is provided for educational purposes only and contains information to facilitate a general understanding of the law. It is not an exhaustive treatment of the law on this subject nor is it intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney. Consult with your own attorneys to apply these legal principles to specific fact situations.

This information is continually updated on the TASB School Law eSource (pdf).

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