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A Guide To Using COVID Relief Funds [+ Downloadable Workbook]

If you've landed here, you're probably familiar with the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, also known as ARP ESSER or ESSER III. 
The legislation and references to other sections of dense education spending laws can be overwhelming, particularly for school leaders wrapping up another difficult school year and looking for guidance. 
We understand immediate needs take precedence when it comes to your school district’s planning and spending of those funds. We also believe that new funding presents an opportunity to invest in programming and infrastructure, including people, that will enhance equitable access to advanced coursework and engaging learning opportunities in the future.                                        
Of course, there’s no silver bullet solution, but you also don't have to do this work alone. With help from national experts, we've put together a planning workbook with recommendations to help make this process more manageable. 

Download the ARP ESSER Planning Workbook.

A Brief Overview of the ARP ESSER Funds

The ARP ESSER fund, enacted in March, is the third relief program (ESSER III) passed by Congress to help American primary and secondary schools emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. 
To date, two-thirds of the $122 billion ARP ESSER fund has been allocated to state education agencies (SEAs), with the remaining third available after the Department of Education approves states' plans. At least 90 percent of the fund will be distributed to local education agencies based on established funding formulas.
The process of receiving the funds varies by state, with some states requiring LEAs to apply for their funds. We encourage you to reach out to your state education agency to learn more about its specifications.

What Does My School District Do When it Receives the Funds?

All schools receiving ARP ESSER funds must reserve 20 percent of the funds for evidence-based interventions to address learning loss. These interventions may address students' social, emotional and academic needs and the disproportionate impact of underrepresented student subgroups.
Although there is a need for urgency, there is time to plan and strategize for how best to allocate funds. How districts and schools address and mitigate learning loss - and accelerate learning - are local decisions based on student needs and input from stakeholders, including educators, administrators and families.
Because every school is unique, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. But preparing teachers to meet the needs of students will be essential to the district's recovery plans. NMSI can help equip your schools for long-term success through NMSI 365, a holistic Pre-K-12+ model of teacher training, student support and administrative services that empowers success for all program participants, especially students furthest from opportunity. 

Here is a breakdown of how NMSI’s evidence-based interventions map to ESSER’s allowable uses

Allowable uses of ARP ESSER funds

NMSI Solutions

Professional learning opportunities to improve education and principal effectiveness

NMSI 365 is built for teachers by teachers.

  • Teacher professional development focused on vertical skills progression and scaffolding complex content ​

  • Provide curricula and inquiry-based resources centered on math and science practices and aligned with college and career readiness standards​

  • Use formative and summative assessments to identify gaps and misconceptions​

Teachers and leaders receive professional development throughout the year.

  • Learning conference to create pathways based on individual pedagogical and content needs

  • Flexible live and on-demand online modules focused on educative curricula and training, pedagogical practices and culturally responsive teaching

Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs

STEM Adventures is an online one-day event for students and their families to experience hands-on STEM activities using everyday items.

We can train educators to deliver afterschool and summer programming through our LTF program.
Partner feature: Bootstrap provides computer science training for teachers and curriculum for students by leveraging their knowledge of math and science to create everyday activities such as video games.
Partner feature: VHS Learning provides equal access to education for all students through online courses.

Implementing activities to maintain operation and continuity of services and to employ existing staff

Laying the Foundation provides hands-on training, vertical teaming strategies, culturally responsive classroom resources and small-group support through a blend of in-person and virtual delivery.

Implement strategies to meet students' social, emotional, mental health and academic needs hit hardest by the pandemic through evidence-based interventions    
Address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups

NMSI 365 wraps school systems, educators, and students with resources, training and support.

  • Content training to strengthen teachers' content and instructional knowledge

  • Identification of student misconceptions and adjustments to instruction without watering down the class content    

  • Ongoing real-time professional development – not "one and done"​

  • Live and on-demand student support sessions (AP classes)

  • Embedded training for teachers to address social emotional needs

A focus on local funds of knowledge and just-in-time resources to set teachers and students up successfully

Ready to plan? Use the ARP ESSER planning workbook.

We’ve Figured Out What To Do With 20% of the Funds. What About the Other 80%?

ESSER Funding is flexible. A school can choose to spend more than 20% to address learning loss. Beyond that, schools may use the funds for a wide range of activities to address needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, including any activity authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, or Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006.
Here's a short list of other allowable uses:

  • Coordinating preparedness and response efforts with State, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19

  • Training and professional development on sanitizing and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases

  • Providing mental health services and supports, including through the implementation of evidence-based full-service community schools and the hiring of counselors.

  • Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the LEA's facilities

  • Repairing and improving school facilities to reduce the risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards

  • Planning for or implementing activities during long-term closures, including providing meals to eligible students and providing technology for online learning

Other Things You Need to Know

The U.S. Department of Education requires schools to develop a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction - with public input - and have it publicly available on their website within 30 days of receiving the funds
Schools can use their APR ESSER Fund for any allowable expenses back to March 2020 and they must commit the money by Sept. 30, 2024. 
It's the state's responsibility to ensure all schools demonstrate transparency in their planning and choose effective evidence-based interventions that address students' needs. States must submit their ARP ESSER State plans to the Department of Education by June 7, 2021, to receive the remaining third of the funds.

How Are CARES/ESSER I and ESSER II Different?

Each state managed CARES and ESSER II funding differently, and some U.S. schools are getting portions of that money now. Any money that a school district gets from CARES and ESSER II funding can be used for the same allowable expenses back to March 2020. CARES funding has to be committed by Sept. 30, 2022. ESSER II funding has to be committed by Sept. 30, 2023.
Each of the three federal COVID relief packages have included funding for state education agencies and money that governors’ offices and cities can choose to allocate to education. Local school leaders can stretch their funding by understanding how state leaders are allocating funding and by considering collaborations with their city leaders.

I Want To Learn How NMSI Can Help My Schools. Where Do I Start?

Our programs are not about implementing a one-and-done model. We build and mold our training according to your schools' needs and provide 365 days of support so everyone succeeds. Let’s connect today!
Download the ARP ESSER Planning Workbook.