Navigating ESSER Expiration: How to Take Advantage Now and Plan for the Future

Monique Mahler | April 3, 2024

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and again in subsequent sessions of Congress, as the pandemic’s effects continued to linger, the United States government set aside billions of dollars in funds to aid schools with emergency relief efforts.

However, these funds won’t last forever—in fact, as of this writing, they’re set to expire at the end of 2024. After this time, schools will need to either fill the gap in funding or adapt to operating without these extra resources.


Understanding ESSER Fund Expiration

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds can be applied to a broad range of applications in K-12 schools, including:

  • Purchasing technology, funding special activities, and implementing summer or after-school programs.
  • Attempts to close the education gap caused by lost instructional time due to COVID-related closures and absences.
  • Addressing the needs of low-income, underserved, or special needs students.
  • Supporting administrators and staff with resources needed to address their individual schools and student populations.
  • Providing mental health services and related support systems.

The program was designed to give educators and administrators some leeway in deciding how to apply them based on the unique needs of their schools and districts.

Some uses of ESSER funds have included covering labor costs by hiring new teachers, counselors, STEM specialists, administrative staff, and more, as well as increasing existing staff’s salaries; funding investments in safer and more hygienic schools; purchasing distance-learning and other technologies to support schools adapting to a post-COVID world; improving mental health resources and education for students; and more.

While these funds have aided in many programs over the last four years, as of this writing, the last batch of them is set to expire at the end of 2024.

At a high level, according to the current timeline, ESSER funds will cease being allocated in late 2024. This means that any funds must be obligated, or committed to specific purposes, by September 2024. Then, those funds must be rendered, or spent, over the next few years (ESSER I by September 2026, ESSER II by September 2027, and ESSER III by September 2028).

However, these timelines differ somewhat from state to state, as do the effects of their expiry—depending on how funds are administered.


ESSER Fund Expiration Impacts Across States

Unfortunately, many school districts are looking at fiscal cliffs once ESSER funds expire—thanks not just to the vacuum those programs will leave behind, but by the funding circumstances driven by their own states as well.

A report from Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit that works with districts to tackle finance issues, found 15 states that are particularly vulnerable once these pandemic relief funds expire.

These states include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • West Virginia

These states have the highest ratios of relief funds to overall spending, large proportions of low-income students, and a high proportion of high-poverty districts.

Additionally, some states have more funds still available than others. For those with high proportions of funds remaining, it’s time to come up with creative ways to use them before they disappear. But for those with limited dollars left, opportunities to take advantage will be slim.


How to Utilize ESSER Funds Before They Expire

The moral of this story is this: if you have creative ideas to support and evolve your school that could use extra funding, now is the time to make them a reality.

Make sure you visit your state’s online ESSER resources to understand how to seek a portion of any remaining funds. Having this information from the beginning will help you build a better application and increase your chances of securing funding.

Looking for some inspiration? Consider requesting ESSER funds to support these types of investments in your school or district:

  • Investing in technology and infrastructure improvements: Do you need a new piece of recruiting software to help you compete to hire top teachers in a competitive talent market? What about a consolidated distance-learning or teacher-parent app to help centralize the student and family experience? Might some new iPads, Chromebooks, or SMART Boards help set your classrooms up for engagement and success in the coming years?
  • Funding extracurricular and academic programs: If you need to inject some new resources into your STEM programs, arts and music offerings, or extracurricular clubs and student engagement opportunities, ESSER grants can be a great option. Having strong options in these areas will entice more parents to enroll their students in your schools.
  • Hiring additional staff—or supporting existing staff with professional development opportunities: Teacher recruitment and retention are challenging in this environment. Extending your recruitment reach, improving the candidate experience, opening new roles, and lifting up your current teachers and staff can help you lay a foundation for success well into the future.

Get creative! And work with fellow admins and teachers to come up with great ideas that can help fill critical gaps in your existing programs.


Planning Ahead: What to Do After ESSER Funds Expire

Whether you earn any new ESSER-funded projects or not, now is a crucial time to start planning ahead for when these grants expire later this year. Shore up your school and district now to ensure a smooth transition out of pandemic relief funding, and into a sustainable future.

To begin, make sure you understand how the ESSER expiration date will impact funding from your state. While some states have implemented tax cuts to provide economic relief to taxpayers while ESSER funding was available to help fund education, this may mean reduced state funding for districts moving forward.

Many states around the country are also seeing funding cliffs post-ESSER, based on inadequate school funding measures. Some are already seeking to alleviate this problem with a school funding referendum in the 2024 election cycle. (For example, Wisconsin is seeing a lot of these this year.)

But whether this is an option—and whether or not a referendum will pass, if it is an option—or not, districts need to be mindful of their budgets now more than ever. It’s poor timing, with inflation and a shaky economy still looming.
Some ideas for how to evaluate how future-proof your budget is could include:

  • Closely examine your current budget and be prepared to make the adjustments that will most help your entire district. For example, if you are currently contracting with multiple classroom management apps, recruiting platforms, video conferencing tools, or other types of software, consolidate where you can or find ways to make your existing tools and solutions into a bit more of a Swiss Army knife.
    • Tools like interviewstream can be used for so much more than just a single purpose (i.e. interviewing/hiring) such as onboarding, internal surveying, automating reference checks, helping with scheduling for your career fairs, parent-teacher conferences and the list goes on. As you expand the ways that you are using tools that you already have in place, you should be able to draw a smaller amount of budget across multiple areas of your school’s funding. Thus making the hit to one department’s budget far smaller while also reducing the burden on your IT team over the long months of summertime work to either implement a new solution or extract an existing one from your current systems.
  • Use ESSER remaining ESSER funds to support future-facing infrastructure investments. Are there sustainability projects—such as solar or wind power systems to supplement electrical usage, student-run community gardens to add fresh produce to your cafeterias, or many other opportunities to embrace and protect nature—you can implement to reduce utility costs?
  • Seek other sources of funding where possible. Investing in grant writers or other ways of securing outside funds may be wise. Additionally, asking for local families to support fundraising efforts is another option implemented by many schools and districts around the country.
  • Ask for support from local businesses and provide sponsorship opportunities and other programs where possible. Offering a bit of advertising in this way can help make school donations appealing to area entrepreneurs.
  • Talk to your current vendors before deciding that you can’t find a way to make a solution fit post-ESSER funding. Many of them may have programs in place already that aren’t well advertised and will be able to help you not have to change yet another thing in a sea of challenging changes already underway for your district.

Once again, collaboration is key here. Working with your vendors and fellow staff to brainstorm, problem solve, and get real about budgeting requirements and concessions are all essential in moving forward with economic sustainability in mind.


How to Move Forward

This is an uncertain time for many, and for school districts facing a fiscal cliff, it’s downright scary. With ESSER funds expiring and other income streams feeling insufficient for the task of running excellent, supportive, and compassionate schools, it’s an intimidating time to be a K-12 administrator.

But teachers and admins are a hardy bunch, and it’s not too late to plan for a bright future. Making use of ESSER funds in a forward-thinking way—and tackling your budget with a calculating, efficient eye—will help you pave the path for happy, successful students in the years to come.

Talk to the interviewstream team if you need help tackling this challenge. We are eager to help school districts find a path forward as we look to these next few years and try to find ways to best support the many districts we partner with today.

About The Author

Monique Mahler is the CEO of interviewstream. She is an avid researcher of facts, a self proclaimed marketing geek, and an equestrian in her spare time.


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