On May 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education released a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on ESSER and GEER funds.
This document helps educators justify how and why they can access these funds for their program. There are 78 questions and answers about COVID-19 relief funds, and while some parts may seem very technical and dry (which they are…), I have pulled out some highlights and key takeaways that you can bring to your principal to access money for your program. As you may know, these funds provide schools with over $200 billion of emergency relief funds to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FAQ document is split into 5 sections:
- Overview of ESSER and GEER funds
- Reopening schools safely and promoting the health and safety of students, staff and the school community
- Advancing educational equity in COVID-19 response
- Using ESSER and GEER funds to support educators and other school staff
- Additional fiscal considerations
Click here if you need help decoding the acronyms used in this article.
Show Me the Money
The COVID-19 relief funds (CARES, CRRSA and ARP) give schools money to ensure a safe and healthy return to school, while addressing learning loss and establishing equity. ESSER specifies that there are 15 areas of “allowable use” in every state, and this FAQ clarifies how funds can be used.
“… allowable uses of funds and describe how these funds may be used to implement actionable strategies to meet the urgent needs of students and educators as LEAs and schools work to return to and safely sustain in-person instruction, address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and address students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs. …
“The DOE encourages States and LEAs to use the funds described in this document to safely reopen schools, maximize in-person instructional time for all students, and provide opportunities to address the impacts of lost instructional time resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. When making decisions about how to use ESSER and GEER funds, States and LEAs are encouraged to take into consideration how the funds can be used to address inequities, including focusing supports and services on students from low- income families, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, children and youth in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
Before you start asking for funds, you should use these questions to determine if an activity is an allowable use of funds:
- “Is the use of funds intended to prevent, prepare for, or respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its impact on the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students?”
- “Does the use of funds fall under one of the authorized uses of ESSER or GEER funds?”
In reading the FAQ, it is apparent that the federal government wants these funds to concentrate on the safe reopening of schools for all students while maintaining safety protocols and advancing educational equity. While these funds have been available for over a year, most educators and even administrators are still learning about how these funds can be used as well as how to access them. We need to do our part to make sure these funds will be used to support music programs in our schools.
I want to spotlight a few specific questions. As you begin to draft your plan, these FAQs will help you address concerns from your administrator.
C-2. How may an LEA use ESSER and GEER funds to support students who have lost instructional time due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
ESSER and GEER funds may also be used to provide a variety of activities and supports to help improve the achievement of students to address the impact of lost instructional time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, funds may be used for costs associated with evidence-based approaches to accelerating learning, high-dose tutoring, leveraging technology to provide embedded assessment and differentiated instruction, diagnostic and curriculum-embedded assessments, and extending the school day or year to provide additional time for student learning, enrichment, and support. These costs may include supplementing the salaries of educators and other qualified personnel to perform additional services. ESSER and GEER funds may also be used to support the costs associated with hiring additional teachers and teacher aides to provide intensive support to students. ESSER and GEER funds may further be used to provide professional development to educators on research-based strategies for meeting students’ academic, social, emotional, mental health, and college, career, and future readiness needs, including strategies to accelerate learning without remediation or tracking.
Music educators can use these funds for summer opportunities including:
- Marching band sectionals
- Beginning band or string classes
- Producing a musical
- Teaching music technology classes (notation, writing beats, film or video game scoring)
- Bucket drumming ensembles
- General music instruction with recorders or pianicas
Not only can you teach these classes, but these funds can also be used to hire private lesson teachers and coaches.
C-3. How may an LEA use ESSER and GEER funds to support students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs, including by hiring support personnel such as nurses, counselors, and social workers?
An LEA may use ESSER and GEER funds, including the 20 percent of ARP ESSER funds set aside to address the academic impact of lost instructional time, to support students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs, including by implementing school-wide strategies that enhance supports and interventions for students as well as targeted assistance for students who need such supports. For example, an LEA might hire additional personnel to prioritize student well-being and health by increasing student access to teachers, nurses, guidance counselors, social workers, and other support personnel.
An LEA might also address the needs of students arising from the COVID-19 pandemic by using ESSER and GEER funds to implement or expand arts programs, such as music programs, including purchasing instruments; expand sports programming so more students can participate; or initiate clubs, such as a robotic or STEM club.
LEAs should also work to ensure that schools are implementing instructional practices that are culturally responsive and that incorporate trauma-informed pedagogy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We all know the benefits of music education and how it can support our students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Why not use this money to start or expand your music programs? Don’t forget that purchasing additional musical instruments and mouthpieces for each student eliminates sharing and falls under allowable use #5 of ESSER funds.
C-25. What kinds of summer programs may ESSER and GEER funds support?
ESSER and GEER funds may provide broad support for summer learning and enrichment programs. Given that this summer affords students a critical opportunity, LEAs should consider a variety of options for procuring summer services with ESSER and GEER funds, including programs run by non-profit or community organizations as well as those run by the LEA. Effective summer programming can address students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs through a combination of activities that include strong partnerships with community-based organizations and other summer providers, including summer camps. These partnerships can help to sustain these programs and can also support programs in rural and remote communities.
Partnering with a non-profit or community arts-based organization can be beneficial for both your students and the community.
D-1. May an LEA use ESSER and GEER funds to stabilize and support the educator workforce?
Yes. An LEA may use ESSER and GEER funds to stabilize and support the educator workforce and to support the conditions that will allow schools to return to in-person instruction. This may include using funds to pay teacher salaries and avoid layoffs. Funds may also be used to address educator shortages exacerbated by the pandemic by hiring new teachers, including expanding student access to a well- prepared and diverse educator workforce.
If All Else Fails, Don’t Forget Allowable Use #1
The federal government has allocated more money than ever before, and school districts are struggling to keep up with all aspects of the COVID-19 federal relief funds. Over the past months, educators have told me that their district says that “music and the arts don’t fit into the allowable uses.” This is not true. The language for allowable use #1 of the ARP Act states that funds can be used for:
Any activity authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
ESEA includes the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and both spell out that music is a part of a "well-rounded education."
ESSER and GEER funds can be used to pay teacher salaries and avoid layoffs. We must maintain our programs and address our students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Start now, do your homework and meet with your supervisor to make sure your voice is heard to determine how these funds can be used to support your program.
Frequently Asked Questions: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Programs Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Programs
Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs
- ARP Act = American Rescue Plan Act
- CARES Act = Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,
- CRRSA Act = Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act
- DOE = U.S. Department of Education
- ESEA = Elementary and Secondary Education Act
- ESSA = Every Student Succeeds Act
- ESSER = Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief
- GEER = Governor’s Emergency Education Relief
- LEA = Local Education Agency (aka School District)
- SEA = State Education Agency (aka State Department of Education)
Allowable Uses of ESSER and GEER Funds
ESSER spells out "allowable uses" in each of the COVID-19 federal relief funds. Below is the list of 15 allowable uses from ESSER III, which is part of the ARP act:
- Any activity authorized by the ESEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), or the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins).
- Coordination of LEA preparedness and response efforts with state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments, and other relevant agencies, to improve coordinated responses with other agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.
- Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.
- Developing and implementing procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of LEAs.
- Training and professional development for LEA staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases.
- Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of an LEA, including buildings operated by such agency.
- Planning for, coordinating, and implementing activities during long-term closures, including how to provide meals, technology for online learning, guidance on IDEA requirements, and ensuring other educational services can continue to be provided consistent with all applicable requirements.
- Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students served by the LEA that aids in regular and substantive educational interactions between students and their classroom teachers, including low-income students and children with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment.
- Providing mental health services and supports, including through the implementation of evidence-based full-service community schools.
- Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.
- Addressing learning loss among students, including low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care, of the local educational agency, including by
- Administering and using high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable, to accurately assess students’ academic progress and assist educators in meeting students’ academic progress and assist educators in meeting students’ academic needs, including through differentiating instruction.
- Implementing evidence-based activities to meet the comprehensive needs of students.
- Providing information and assistance to parents and families on how they can effectively support students, including in a distance learning environment.
- Tracking student attendance and improving student engagement in distance education.
- School facility repairs and improvements to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards, and to support student health needs.
- Inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement, and upgrade projects to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and non-mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification, and other air cleaning, fans, control systems, and window and door repair and replacement.
- Developing strategies and implementing public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff
- Other activities that are necessary to maintain operations and continuity of services and continuing to employ existing staff.