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​May 4, 2020

Dear Chief School Administrator:

Earlier this morning, I filed paperwork with the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) to secure Pennsylvania’s share of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The application and local education agency (LEA) allocations are available on our website. We expect USDE to approve the submission within one week. My team is finalizing a streamlined LEA application in eGrants to ensure that funds are available to you in an expedited manner.

Under the CARES Act, ESSER allocations to LEAs are based on the proportion of Title I, Part A funds each LEA received in 2019. Although ESSER funds are distributed to LEAs based on the same formula used for Title I, Part A allocations, these allocations are not Title I, Part A funds. Rather, ESSER is its own, separate, and flexible program intended to support COVID-19 response efforts. LEAs may spend ESSER funds on allowable activities, including:

  • Coordinating preparedness and response efforts to COVID-19;

  • Providing principals and other school leaders with resources to address individual school needs;

  • Addressing 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;

  • Implementing systems to improve LEA preparedness and response efforts;

  • Delivering professional development for LEA staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious disease and purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean LEA facilities;

  • Planning for and coordinating 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;

  • Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software and connectivity) for the LEA’s students;

  • Providing mental health services and supports;

  • Planning and implementing summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs; and

  • Initiating other activities necessary to maintain LEA operations and services and employ existing LEA staff, including any activity authorized by ESEA, IDEA, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Perkins, or McKinney Vento.

As you develop local plans, remember that CARES funding is one-time, emergency aid. As such, consider how CARES funding might interact with your 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, I urge you to keep equity in the forefront of your 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.

One final note: These funds are vitally needed, and PDE appreciates the prompt action by Congress to provide an initial measure of relief. At the same time, this crisis—and the emergency education needs that come with it—will require another significant appropriation for states and schools. I’m working alongside my colleagues from other states to urge Congress to prioritize additional investments in education recovery, and I urge you join me. Please call our U.S. Senators and your local member of the U.S. House of Representatives, describe the extraordinary local response you’ve been leading, and speak directly about the vital role of the Federal government in sustaining it.

Thank you for leading through these unprecedented times with your students at the center of all you do.

- Pedro