As we enter the 2023-24 Academic Year, we also enter the final months for the availability of ESSER III funding. This funding technically ends on September 30, 2024. However, the products that you are using the funds for must be purchased and delivered by that date. I have also heard of some districts that are seeking to have the funds encumbered by the end of this academic year to allow time for the shipping and receiving of products. I have been asked a lot of questions about these funds, so let’s address some of the ones that are asked the most.
How much money does my school have? Monies were distributed to districts, so how those funds might be allocated can vary. One thing to do first is to check your district website. Most districts have a page on their site that outlines how much funding they received and how those funds are being allocated. If you cannot find the web page with the correct answer, the next question may give you that information.
Whom should I contact about these funds? This is the most common question I was asked by both teachers and administrators. The reality is that ESSER funding is from the Federal Government. You want to reach out to the Director of Federal Funding in your district with questions. Many moderate and smaller sized districts may not have a specific individual with this title, so you may have to contact the Treasurer or CFO of the district. I have seen many districts where the funding was then allocated to schools and programs where there was a secondary lead figure. This is an important person to know as the remaining funds have more flexibility in what can be purchased.
Can I buy whatever I want? The simple answer is no. You want to work with your district leads to make sure that what you are hoping to order fits under both the federal and district guidelines. Unfortunately, some districts ran afoul of the government with ESSER I funds as those had very specific purposes. Anything outside of those purposes was misuse of the funding.
So, what can you use the funds for? You can use the funds for anything that supports students through overcoming any potential loss from learning that may have occurred on account of the pandemic and is still hindering the student’s ability to learn. This is where I have seen devices like the Reader Pen2, ScanMarker, Livescribe Pen, and switches or tools for access have been able to be purchased. Assistive Technology is one of the areas where fund usage is permissible.
What is covered under the idea of supporting mental health? This question has arisen from many districts. The implementation of sensory/calming rooms has demonstrated positive support for all students, especially those prone to escalation. Sensory room products can be purchased. The caveat is groups that want to include other classroom furniture. I have worked with some districts who thought that any chair or desk could be included. That is not always the case. Always work with your district to make sure that what you are getting again lies within the guidelines. In this case, a beanbag chair is acceptable while a standard desk chair may not be. Don’t think that you can only buy sensory room packages. Work with the groups that you trust to help in the design of a room that best meets your needs and the needs of your students. Both Jodi Szuter and I are available to support you with questions and recommendations.
I have time so do I have to worry about this now? Please start thinking about your plans now. Your district may have an end date for the encumberment of these funds. I know of several districts where that date is around the end of this academic year as I mentioned in the first paragraph. When you are dealing with federal funds, the end date means that you have already ordered AND received the products. If an audit were to be conducted on the following day, you could show the auditor the products or, at least, the boxes they are still in on district property. That is an important distinction as with other types of funding, the items simply need to be ordered and invoiced. There is a difference here and those in your district overseeing the funds will be focused on that. Another reason I bring this up is because there is still a global chip shortage. For example, there are still schools waiting for chip-driven devices like some types of screening devices and AEDs because of the lengthy delays in getting chips. We are seeing production of these chips going up, but still not catching up to the demands over the last few years. Be sure to work with your sales representative to determine if the products are available and will be able to be delivered on time. Another point to be aware of is the fact that some products are not even being manufactured anymore. That discussion with your sales representative will help to guide you the correct way.
There are a lot of groups speaking about “ESSER-approved” products. Is there a list somewhere? Please reach out to your lead in the district about this. There are some districts which are being more restrictive about the funding to protect everyone legally. There is no list of “ESSER-approved” devices, generally. Some groups may simply be referring to what other districts have purchased. It is better to ask the folks in your district first before simply placing the request with them. When I work with groups, we look at products that support potential learning loss, assistive technology, items that maintain a healthy physical environment (including air purifiers), and products which support mental health and well-being, like sensory products. Your district will have any specific information you might need.
Should I just stock up on cleaning supplies? The short answer is no. Utilize these funds to get those devices and products which best support the students and think about purchasing multiple items of products that can work for many students. I have seen large deployments of Reader Pen2s and ScanMarker Readers because of the overall impact devices like these have on learning. By utilizing these funds and thinking ahead, you can support the next several classes of students. I have seen some districts utilize their funds by purchasing AAC or access devices to have back-ups in case a student breaks or loses one. Think about what was difficult to purchase in the past and buy now. Cleaning supplies and simple items can be purchased annually when this funding ends.
If you do have any other questions, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com and I will support you as best I can!