Is ESSER Money Being Spent or Not?
Our guest author today is Jess Gartner, CEO and Founder of Allovue, an education finance technology company.
As part of a series of federal pandemic-relief stimulus packages, K-12 schools received three rounds of funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I, II, and III), totaling nearly $200 billion. Almost immediately, headlines across the nation probed how (or if) schools were spending these dollars. Nearly three years after the initial round of funding ($13 billion) was granted by the CARES Act in March 2020, questions linger about the pace and necessity of spending. Why is it so hard to get a straight answer?
For two years, the prevailing theme in the headlines had been that school districts were sitting on stacks of cash, whereas more recent (and far less breathless) stories say the money is now on track to be spent. Why all the confusion? The complex multi-year process of receiving, planning, spending, and reporting ESSER dollars is more complicated and drawn out than a single soundbyte can convey (I’ve tried!). Let’s take a quick look at a few key issues to bear in mind when thinking (or reading) about ESSER funds, and then a couple of conclusions as to what’s really going on.