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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions – ESSER Funds

What is the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund?

As part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress established and appropriated a total of $13.2 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. ESSER funds are distributed to states based on each state's proportionate share of Title I, Part A (Title I-A) funding from 2019.  ESSER funds are intended to support COVID-19 response efforts and may be spent on a wide range of allowable activities.

How much ESSER funding did Pennsylvania receive?

Pennsylvania has received $523.8 million in emergency, one-time ESSER funds. Of this amount, $471.4 million will be directly allocated to school districts and charter schools based on the same formula used for Title I-A allocations in 2019. LEA allocations are available on PDE's website.

What schools are eligible for ESSER funding?

Under the CARES Act, eligible recipients include school districts and charter schools. Pursuant to the CARES Act, public schools that did not receive Title I, Part A funding, either because of ineligibility or a decision to decline funding, will not receive a grant.

How can school districts and charter schools apply for ESSER funds?

School districts and charter schools can apply for funding by submitting a streamlined application to PDE in the eGrants system, using existing credentials.

How can school districts and charter schools use these funds? 

Funds may be used to:

  • Coordinate preparedness and response efforts to COVID-19;
  • Provide principals and other school leaders with resources to address individual school needs;
  • Address the unique needs of low-income children, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including outreach and service delivery;
  • Implement systems to improve LEA preparedness and response efforts;
  • Deliver professional development for LEA staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious disease and purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean LEA facilities;
  • Plan for and coordinate operations during long-term closures, including how to provide meals, technology for online learning, guidance for carrying out IDEA requirements, and providing educational services consistent with applicable requirements;
  • Purchase educational technology (including hardware, software and connectivity) for students;
  • Provide staff and student mental health services and supports;
  • Plan and implement summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs; and
  • Initiate other activities necessary to maintain LEA operations and services and employ existing LEA staff, including any activity authorized by ESEA which include the Title programs, IDEA, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Perkins, and McKinney-Vento.

In planning for ESSER funds, LEAs are advised that CARES Act funding is one-time, emergency aid. As such, LEAs should consider how CARES Act funding might interact with other federal funding and the role of enhanced funding flexibilities to ensure strategic and sustainable use.  And while the pandemic has had tremendous consequences for all Pennsylvanians, PDE urges recipients to keep equity in the forefront of planning by prioritizing investments for vulnerable students and families, including those living in the deepest poverty, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.

When will school districts and charter schools receive funding?

After a completed ESSER application is submitted in eGrants, PDE will promptly move applications through the federally required approval process. As with all federal funds, payments will be disbursed on a monthly schedule. ESSER funding is retroactive to March 13; therefore, the initial payment may be larger and reflect monthly allocations between March 13 and the date of application approval. PDE anticipates LEAs will begin to receive funds in June.

What is the period of allowability for ESSER funds?

Funds may be obligated for the period March 13, 2020 through September 30, 2022.

Are nonpublic schools eligible to receive equitable services for ESSER funds?

Yes, school districts that receive CARES Act funding, including ESSER funds, must consult with and provide equitable services to nonpublic schools. LEAs must retain control of the funding and items purchased with such funds.  

Since ESSER funds are administered to school districts and charter schools using the Title I-A formula, does that mean Title I-A regulations apply?

Although ESSER funds are distributed to LEAs based on Title I-A allocations, these are not Title I-A funds; rather, ESSER funding is its own, separate funding. Accordingly, ESSER funds must be awarded and tracked separately from Title I-A funds. ESSER funds do not include a supplement, not supplant requirement and are not subject to ranking and serving provisions that define how an LEA distributes funds to schools. An LEA may support any school within the LEA or it may target funds based on poverty, indication of school needs, or other targeting measures.

Should school districts and charter schools anticipate monitoring or auditing of ESSER funds?

Yes. PDE will monitor the use of ESSER funds. In addition, ESSER funds are subject to Single Audit Act requirements.

Will there be reporting requirements for school districts and charters schools on ESSER funds?

Yes. The U.S. Department of Education requests the following reporting components:

  • How LEAs determined their most important education needs as a result of COVID-19;
  • The extent to which LEAs used ESSER funds to promote remote learning; and
  • How the LEA assessed and addressed student learning gaps resulting from the disruption in educational services.

Contact Information

LEAs may contact their regional coordinator in the PDE Division of Federal Programs with questions related to ESSER funding and application assistance.