Making the Most of ESSER Funds: A Guide for Schools and Districts

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Every seasoned district administrator and school leader knows how challenging it can be to find the state and federal funding needed to support their learning initiatives and serve all students equitably. That’s why it’s so important to develop a careful plan for your funding dollars and how best to use them. You need to ask yourself some basic questions: What are the right programs? Who are the right partners? How do I decide the amount of funding to allocate to each? How do I get started?

Once you implement the programs, there are questions too. Were the programs effective? Were the partners supportive? The good news that’s come out of a very challenging time is that the American Rescue Plan and its predecessors are providing K-12 schools and districts with an unprecedented level of emergency funding—nearly $190 billion in total. You can use these funds to address today’s challenges or to start building the school of tomorrow. To succeed, you need information. We’re here to help.




What You Need to Know:


How much money is available?

This amounts to a total of $187.5 billion—more federal dollars than the American school system has ever seen!

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What does this mean for you and your students?

The chart below shows just how much more money schools and districts can spend on each student compared to historic levels.

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How can the dollars be used?

Ninety percent of ESSER funding will be distributed to districts based on their relative share of Title I, Part A funding. The funding can be spent on a variety of needs, including:

  • Building improvements designed to decrease virus transmission and improve air quality
  • Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean buildings
  • Providing mental health services, supports, and meals during school closures
  • Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity)
  • Addressing learning loss
  • Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning
  • Closing the homework gap by narrowing the digital divide
  • Acceleration for at-promise students


See how the Achieve3000 Learning Platform aligns to ESSER Funding.

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What kind of requirements are tied to these dollars?

  1. 20% must be used to address learning recovery through evidence-based interventions
  2. Interventions must “respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs
  3. Interventions must address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on the most vulnerable children, including multi-lingual learners, students in need of special education services, and those who are experiencing homelessness or are currently in foster care.
  4. Proposals must include a plan for bringing students back-to-school that has already undergone public comment.

Can states only spend 20% of their allocated dollars on learning recovery? NO.

They can spend all of it on helping students fulfill unfinished learning if they want to.

What do state plans look like so far?

According to a new Summary of State Plans from the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, states are focusing their plans on four main areas:

Getting organized and understanding what needs to happen.

As state leaders begin their planning, they are using a variety of creative ways—despite the pandemic—to seek to communicate proactively and engage key stakeholders about emerging plans.

Using summer 2021 to accelerate learning.

After the challenges over the past year offering consistent full-time, in-person schooling, state leaders see summertime as a strong opportunity to offer special programs and supports that can accelerate student learning.

Supporting more students to be successful learners.

State leaders are working to ensure students have access to targeted help for both their academic needs and overall well-being. Over the past months of the pandemic, states have strengthened their multi-tiered systems of support and they are now examining potential partnerships to address specific academic needs, including efforts to provide more learning time during or after school.

Tackling other challenges: Future considerations.

As described above, state leaders are moving quickly to craft plans that begin to address immediate academic and non-academic student needs over the coming months. At the same time, they recognize many other thorny issues that still need to be addressed, as they roll out implementation details and work to address the pandemic’s many harms to students, family members, and educators.

What are evidence-based interventions?

The Every Student Succeeds Act identifies four tiers of evidence for schools and districts to use when evaluating educational resources they’d like to purchase with federal funds.


ESSA Pyramid


How much money is available in my state?

The US Department of Education has created a great tool for tracking how much money has been received and spent by each of the states and US territories. You can find that here.


What is the funding timeline?

ESSER funds are available through September 30, 2022. The SEAs began receiving funds from the Department of Education last Spring, and funds are being dispersed to LEAs in April–June 2021. SEAs must award the ESSER funds to LEAs within one year of receiving the state allocation. Any funds that SEAs fail to award by the one-year deadline must be returned to the Department for reallocation consistent with the CARES Act.

Similarly, ESSER II funds are available for obligation by SEAs through September 30, 2023. SEAs must also award ESSER II funds within one year of receiving them.


Achieve3000: Your Learning Partner

Achieve3000’s learning platform is designed to accelerate learning for all students, no matter where they start. We offer four solutions: Achieve3000 Literacy, a literacy acceleration tool for grades 2-12; Actively Learn, a curriculum platform for grades 3-12; Smarty Ants, a foundational literacy tool for grades PreK-2; and Achieve3000 Math, a mathematics acceleration tool for grades K-12.

All of our solutions are grounded in research and built to deliver measurable results. In fact, we guarantee 2X expected reading gains for Achieve3000 Literacy, or the next year is on us. Because they are digital, our solutions offer access anywhere, anytime, on any device, so teachers can keep students engaged whether they are working in school or at home.

Additional Resources and Support

If you’d like to learn more about ESSER funding opportunities and what they mean to you and your students, Achieve3000 is happy to help. Here are a few simple steps you can take: