Begin Main Content Area

ESSER/GEER Extra, Volume 10

This week's volume of ESSER/GEER Extra includes: information about the ARP Act's maintenance of equity requirement for school districts and charter schools, additional detail on use of ARP ESSER funds to alleviate student transportation strains, information about upcoming ARP ESSER webinars, guidance on use of ESSER funds for contact tracing efforts, and information regarding the extended availability of 2019-20 federal funds due to the USDE waiver.

All editions of ESSER/GEER Extra are archived on PDE's website.

ARP ESSER LEA Maintenance of Equity (MOEquity)

As a condition of receiving ARP ESSER funds, the ARP Act requires each school district and charter school to maintain equity for each "high-poverty school." Under section 2004(c) of the ARP Act, for each school identified by a school district or charter school as a high-poverty school, the LEA may not, in fiscal years 2021-22 or 2022-23:

  1. Reduce per-pupil funding (from combined State and local funding) by an amount that exceeds the total reduction, if any, in LEA per-pupil funding for all schools served by the LEA in such fiscal year; or
  2. Reduce the number of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) staff per-pupil by an amount that exceeds the total reduction, if any, in FTE staff per-pupil in all schools served by the LEA in such fiscal year.

What is a high-poverty school?

A "high-poverty school" is a school that is in the highest quartile of schools served by the LEA based on the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in the school. Where the MOEquity requirement applies, an LEA must identify their high-poverty schools and report that information to PDE.

Does the MOEquity requirement apply to my school district or charter school?

The ARP Act contains several exceptions to the LEA MOEquity requirement. The requirement does not apply if the LEA:

  1. Has a total enrollment of less than 1,000 students;
  2. Operates a single school; or
  3. Serves all students within each grade span with a single school.

If one of the above exceptions applies, an LEA is not required to comply with the MOEquity requirements for all applicable fiscal years of those requirements (2021-22 and 2022-23).

The ARP Act also allows for an exception where an LEA demonstrates an exceptional or uncontrollable circumstance, such as unpredictable changes in student enrollment or a precipitous decline in the financial resources of the LEA as determined by the U.S. Secretary of Education. USDE has indicated that this exception will be narrowly applied.

USDE clarified in their recently updated MOEquity guidance (see FAQ #32) that some LEAs for which an exception above does not apply could be eligible for a delay in the implementation in the MOEquity requirement if the LEA can certify that it did not and will not implement an aggregate reduction in combined state and local per-pupil funding in 2021-22 (i.e., the LEA is not facing overall budget reductions). An LEA that is not reducing combined state and local per-pupil funding in 2021-22 does not need to comply with the MOEquity requirement for 2021-22; however, the MOEquity requirement would apply in 2022-23. Any LEAs seeking such a delay will need to certify eligibility with PDE.

PDE will soon post certification forms in eGrants that LEAs can upload to their ARP ESSER applications, certifying application of an exception or MOEquity delay.

Stay tuned for more information on MOEquity, and access the USDE MOEquity guidance.

Use of ESSER Funds to Address Bus Driver Shortages

We recognize that many LEAs are experiencing a significant and serious impact from the national shortage in school bus drivers and want to assure you that we are examining ways to address this issue from every possible vantage point. Below are two immediate options that school districts may have to use funding under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to relieve strains in local transportation services.

Municipal transit authority agreements
In regions that have a robust public transit system, schools may be able to enter into agreements with municipal transit authorities to transport students. This cost can be charged to ESSER under one of several allowable activities, including providing principals and leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools or "other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services." This is an allowable expense since the bus driver shortage has been caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. Further, federal grants management rules encourage intergovernmental agreements as they often allow goals to be accomplished more efficiently by leveraging existing systems.

Agreements with transit authorities to transport students may take the form of running a special route from centralized pickup or drop-off points or simply purchasing transit passes for students. Before engaging in any agreement, consider the following:

  • Any agreement to transport students must be equitable. Consider the length of a route, the amount of additional walking, and the number of transfers that would be required for students residing in a particular neighborhood before asking them to take public transportation. It may be possible to rework school bus routes to maintain service to locations that are less transit-accessible.
  • Costs must be both reasonable and necessary. An agreement with a municipal transit authority should come at a reasonable cost and should not exceed the cost necessary to transport students. Students should be given adequate resources to take them to school and home, rather than a partial fare which would require additional family contributions and may result in bus passes not being used at all.
  • Use of ESSER funds will be monitored closely, so it is important to implement safeguards to ensure that funds are being spent appropriately. This might mean purchasing "smart" transit passes that can be tracked, updated, and cancelled in cases of theft or fraud. A special "student" pass may also be issued which can be visually distinguished from other types of passes so that it can only be used by a student and not resold or used by another individual.
  • Student safety is paramount. Working alongside municipal leaders, consider the safety of various routes, including limiting transfers and walking required – especially for younger students – and/or placing crossing guards at busy intersections. Schools and LEAs may also want to consider offering "last mile" resources to escort students to and from the nearest transit stop safely, including through the use of crossing guards or "walking busses."

Coordinate transportation with parents
A second option – as many of you may have seen or may be implementing yourselves – is to ask parents to transport their students to and from school. We recognize that this represents an additional burden for many parents, including lost wages or costs due to gas, tolls, and wear and tear on personal vehicles. For this reason, under certain circumstances, federal ESSER funds may be used to provide a limited reimbursement directly to parents or guardians to safely transport their students to and from in-person schooling. Considerations include:

  • Whether an LEA is prioritizing in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year and is experiencing severe challenges hiring and retaining the school bus drivers necessary to accommodate the LEA's mandated transportation needs. Auditors may expect clear documentation of need and the impact on students and schools.
  • An LEA will need to develop a clear, objective methodology for the reimbursement that, in addition to other relevant factors, considers a student's actual days of in-person attendance, accounts for all students being transported in a given household or carpool, and other costs incurred by parents when determining the transportation reimbursement amount. Families with documented need should be prioritized to ensure that the cost charged to ESSER is reasonable and necessary.
  • Equity is a key. Reimbursements should be reasonably constructed to ensure that students without access to personal vehicles have other options, and that reimbursements are based on documented need, supporting an equitable return to in-person schooling.
  • We also urge you to implement reasonable precautions to ensure that the reimbursement will be used only for transportation-related expenses, given that ESSER is a federal grant and steps must be taken to ensure that funds are not used for unauthorized purposes. Using reimbursement methods and calculations to ensure funds are spent only on transportation-related expenses may be helpful.

Of course, all of these are temporary solutions with limited reach. As we work to explore additional, state- level strategies, we invite you to share best practices with us and with your colleagues, as we hope to do with you. Please contact your regional coordinator in the PDE Division of Federal Programs with any questions regarding the use of ESSER funds for these purposes.

Upcoming ESSER Webinars and Trainings
Recognizing the many moving parts of ESSER applications and implementation, PDE is bringing you multiple opportunities to learn more and ask questions about your LEA's ARP ESSER plan.

  • Learning loss webinar and Q&A sessions:
    • On Friday, October 22, PDE will post a recorded webinar outlining the general considerations and discussions of the learning loss component of the 7% ARP ESSER set-aside for school districts and charter schools. This recorded webinar provided by PDE will provide guidelines and resources, to support schools in the appropriate uses of these funds.
    • As a follow-up to the webinar, PDE will offer two live Q&A sessions on Tuesday, October 26 and Wednesday, November 10. Register for these live sessions.
  • Construction/renovation webinar:
    • On Wednesday, October 20, PDE will provide a webinar to discuss the allowability of construction costs authorized under ESSER and the requirements in the Uniform Guidance and the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) as they relate to construction costs including, but not limited to, prior approval, contractual requirements, and more. The program is free, but registration is required. Registering for the program will ensure you receive a recording of the webinar if you are unable to join in-person. Register for the ESSER construction webinar.
  • Fall Regional Workshops: The PA Association of Federal Program Coordinators (PAFPC), in conjunction with PDE, will host virtual Fall Regional Workshops on Tuesday, October 26. Register for the PAFPC Fall Regional Workshops.

Can ESSER funds be used to hire a staff for COVID case management and contact tracing responsibilities for an LEA?

Yes. ESSER funds may be used to develop strategies and implement public health protocols including, to the greatest extent practicable, policies in line with guidance from the CDC for the reopening and operation of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff. This may include expenditures related to hiring staff to assist in contact tracing, case management, and other LEA COVID mitigation strategies, as long as those expenditures meet the three-part test for eligibility.

Extension of 2019-20 Federal Fund Availability; Amendment in eGrants

In response to USDE extending the period of availability of 2019-20 federal funds, some LEAs may be receiving notifications that a 2019-2020 Amendment has been created in eGrants. Following USDE's approval of PDE's waiver request, PDE has extended the 2019-20 funds until September 30, 2022.

This waiver effects all consolidated projects on the consolidated application for 2019-20. The waiver includes Title I-A, Title ID subpart 1, Title I-D subpart 2, Titles II-A, III-A and IV-A as well as Title I-A, School Improvement and RLIS grants. For any LEA whose 2019-2020 FER was not created or fully processed, an amendment was created. If all of your LEA's subprojects have had funds expended by September 30, 2021, and FER reports were created, your LEA may not need the amendment. Please email your eGrants Fiscal Technician to determine if you have questions about the amendment process. If you still have remaining funds, please complete the applicable amendment in the eGrants system and submit it by Monday November 8, 2021.

Send Us Your Feedback
Is ESSER/GEER Extra useful and responsive to your needs? Please send feedback, questions, and ideas for future editions to us via email: