Public schools have been granted approximately $190.5 billion in new funding from the federal government. In 2020 and 2021, Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided funding to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. It came in three tranches:
- ESSER I: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed in 2020, provided $13.5 billion to the ESSER Fund.
- ESSER II: The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSAA) provided $54.3 billion more in supplemental ESSER funding.
- ESSER III: The American Rescue Plan Act, passed in 2021, provided the final tranche of funding – another $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding.
Few restrictions apply as to how the funding may be used. The guidance is that ESSER funding indicates it should be used for initiatives linked to helping students, educators, staff, and families emerge from the impacts of COVID-19. That leaves school officials with quite a bit of latitude. For example, the funding may be used for:
- Purchase of educational technology (hardware, software, connectivity, and other devices.
- School facility repairs and improvements.
- Inspections, testing, maintenance, replacements, and projects to improve indoor air quality.
- Mental health services and support.
- Acquisition of cleaning and sanitizing facilities.
Hundreds of school officials are making budget decisions for 2022 and discussing potential uses of ESSER grants. Many school districts will use the funding to launch large construction projects, and some school officials say they will use the funding for technology services.
School officials in the Brandon-Evansville School District have discussed construction projects that include expansion of learning spaces at two schools. At the B-E Elementary Evansville Campus 2-5, the conceptual plan includes adding new classrooms, a commons area, a multi-purpose gymnasium, and a new parking area. A fitness room will be a part of the new gym, and a new storage shed facility for district vehicles will be built. Additional revenue sources will leverage the school’s anticipated ESSER funding.
More than $4.5 million in ESSER funding allocated to the Garaway Local School District may be used to make HVAC improvements in every building and to purchase larger buses. In addition, the school district has proposed using the funding for a weight room expansion, all-weather track replacement, and construction of a multi-purpose field house. Most school officials will leverage the ESSER funding with other sources of revenue.
Milwaukee Public Schools administrators have proposed spending $225 million in federal stimulus funds to improve air quality, provide tutoring and mental health services, and launch other infrastructure initiatives. Some of the needs include:
- Improvement of ventilation systems and air quality.
- Outdoor classroom structures.
- Replacement of drinking fountains with bottle filling stations.
- New lockers for students.
- Exercise stations at 100 schools.
- “Traffic gardens” at 100 schools.
- Renovation projects.
- SMART Boards, Chromebooks, and other technology.
The Wayne County Schools Board of Education voted on May 20 to utilize $6 million of ESSER funding to replace the 65-year-old Walker Early Learning Center with a new building that features larger, more modern classroom space, more efficient electrical and lighting systems, and a new HVAC system. The new, 45,000-square-foot building has a cost estimate of $12 million, with 50 percent of the cost being covered by ESSER funds.
Another top priority involves mechanical and electrical upgrades at Bell Elementary for an estimated at $2.5 million with all the funding coming from ESSER.
A third priority involves spending $6 million to renovate the high school gymnasium. ESSER funds will contribute to 42 percent of the cost.
School officials may use ESSER funds to renovate air-conditioners at six elementary school gymnasiums and replace multiple roofs at a cost of $12.7 million. An additional $1.3 million that the district had saved to update Chromebooks for middle and high school students will remain available as well. School officials also are spending approximately $268,000 each year to service 1,100 internet hotspots for students without reliable access at home. Other construction projects under consideration include building a new school and renovating or replacing Carthage Elementary.
The Cameron ISD will receive approximately $5.2 million from the American Rescue Plan. The district plans to use the funds to address student learning loss as well as replacing some HVAC systems.
The Neshoba Central School District will receive $6.8 million in ESSER funds and plans to spend $5.8 million on facility renovations. This first phase of construction addressed modernizing restrooms with touchless appliances in three buildings at the elementary school. The first heating ventilation and air conditioning system, new exterior doors and windows are for the second phase of construction projects scheduled for the fall. The third phase will include more replacement projects.
The Jackson-Madison County School System has been allocated $16.7 million in ESSER II funding, and officials announced another ESSER III grant of $37 million.
District officials are considering using:
- $100,000 for a learning management system to house the school system’s curriculum for online learning.
- $6.3 million for student laptops.
- $813,000 for teacher laptops.
- $350,000 for a mobile classroom to be taken into communities where students have limited access to after-school programs.
- $556,000 for laptop equipment and devices to ensure the equipment is protected from damage.
- $2.3 million plan for locker and multipurpose rooms at two middle schools.
- $680,000 for new HVAC systems at two schools.
School districts have already received quite a bit of funding, but the ESSER grant program is designed to provide even more. This forthcoming federal aid promises thousands of new contracting opportunities.