Federal ESSER Funds Timeline: What You Need to Know

Oct 26, 2023
Esser funds timeline Edmentum article

As part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, three relief bills were passed during 2020 and 2021 to provide financial support to education. In these coronavirus relief packages, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) grants were created. Below, we dive into what ESSER Funds are as well as the timeline you’ll need to utilize as you plan funding needs for your school. Let’s take a closer look.

What are ESSER Funds? Some Background

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) awards ESSER Fund grants ­to state educational agencies (SEAs) to provide local educational agencies (LEAs), including charter schools that are LEAs, with emergency relief funds to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation.

All ESSER Funds awarded to SEAs are in the same proportion as the amount of funds each state receives, authorized under Part A of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2000 (ESSA), in fiscal year 2019.

Let’s take a look at the history behind ESSER funds:

  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 20, 2021, allocated $13.2 billion to the first Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I Fund).

  • Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA), was signed into law on December 27, 2020, and it provides an additional $54.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II Fund).
  • The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was signed into law on March 11, 2021, and it provides $122.8 billion for the ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER Fund).

As part of the rollout of these funds, several overlapping timelines are occurring for allocating and spending them. To understand the different actions required on this timeline, it is important to make the distinction between the funds being awarded and obligated.

Defining Terms: Allocated, Awarded, and Obligated

ED allocates the relief funds, which are to be distributed for particular purposes. SEAs award funds when they make a subgrant to an LEA or, in the case of the SEA Reserve, when they enter into a subgrant or contract with a sub-recipient.

ESSER funds are obligated when the subrecipient commits those funds to specific purposes. Activities may continue beyond the deadline for obligations but for only another 120 days. For additional information on how states and districts can use their funds, check out our Federal Funding & Allowable Uses Crosswalk.

ESSER funds are obligated when the subrecipient commits grant funds to a specific purpose and liquidates (aka pays out) within 120 days. Initially, the Department only allowed paid services to continue through the obligated fund's 120-day liquidation deadline. However, recent developments have allowed for this deadline to be extended significantly.

Under the Department's updated guidance, published December 7, 2022, subrecipients can sign multi-year licensing contracts, pay for the contract before the final liquidation date, and receive services for up to four years following the obligation deadline. So, what does this mean?

In short, subrecipients could enter a multi-year contract and pay upfront for services spanning four years past the grant's obligation date. Some essential items to note:

  • School officials must conclude that the extension is necessary, reasonable, and does not threaten good grant management.
  • The federal relief grants for LEAs are state-administered programs; at the end of the day, the allowable extension of services is up to their state agency. It is up to a SEA to allow their subrecipients the ability to implement extended contracts under this guidance.
  • ESSER I, II, and III funds must be obligated by September 30, 2022, 23, and 24, respectively, and rendered by September 30, 2026, 27, and 28. Check out our updated funding timeline graphic below.

We recommend checking out Whiteboard Advisors' FAQ on ESSER Multi-Year Contracting for additional resources and information on this update.

All Things ESSER Funding: Timeline

Take a look at important dates to keep in mind as you strategize on ways to use funding for the benefit of your school or district.

Federal Relief Funding Timeline

Note: Each SEA establishes the deadline by which the LEA must submit its ARP ESSER plan, no later than 90 days after receiving the LEA’s ARP ESSER allocation.

Interested in learning more about federal funding and allowable uses? Edmentum’s Federal Funding Crosswalk is designed to help state and local education agencies align their priorities to federal funding streams. Additionally, our Federal Funding Toolkit is packed with valuable insights, strategies, and tools to help you secure the federal funding you need to make a lasting impact.

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