Less Than 1% of COVID Emergency Funds Allocated for Spending Extensions

Almost half of state education agencies have, as of Nov. 7, requested and received permissions from the U.S. Department of Education to extend the spending deadline for the initial round of federal COVID-19 relief dollars allocated to districts and states. Additionally, six states have been granted extensions for spending the second round of federal pandemic funds, according to the Education Department.

In total, these states are extending spending deadlines for $258.4 million, or approximately 0.34% of the allocated funds. 

The meager amount of extended spending could suggest that states and their districts have largely been able to utilize all of their funds from the first two rounds of pandemic relief aid intended for K-12 schools. 

Indeed, according to a report from FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, as of last month, over 99% of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief I fund has been spent, as has nearly 87% of ESSER II. 

ESSER I’s obligation deadline was Sept. 30, 2022, and ESSER II’s deadline was Sept. 30, 2023. The largest and final COVID emergency relief allocation — ESSER III, which is part of the American Rescue Plan — has an obligation deadline of Sept. 30, 2024.

The Education Department has offered states and districts the flexibility to extend the spending deadlines by 14 months for each ESSER allocation. 

Earlier this year, the Education Department stated that reasons provided by states that made late liquidation requests for longer spending timelines included difficulties related to staff shortages, disruptions in the supply chain, and the redistribution of funds intended for equitable services for nonpublic schools participating in the program. 

Requests for spending extensions are submitted by state education agencies on behalf of districts for ESSER allocations and for state spending under the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.

State and local education leaders are awaiting further details from the Education Department regarding the late liquidation process for ESSER III funds. Districts have less than a year to plan for the utilization of the $121.9 billion fund. Any funds not utilized by Sept. 30, 2024, will need to be returned to the federal government

The late liquidation process is a “confusing, evolving story,” as stated by Marguerite Roza, director of Edunomics Lab, an education funding research center at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, during a Nov. 2 Edunomics webinar.

“I believe that most districts will attempt to spend down the ESSER funds if they can,” said Roza.

Edunomics Lab suggests that state education agencies and communities monitor the rate of ESSER III spending by districts, and if the spending appears to be slow, they develop a plan and provide support to ensure that the one-time funds are utilized.

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