Summer learning prioritized for academic recovery with ESSER funding

School districts are prioritizing addressing learning loss, mental health needs, and access to technology when allocating the remaining funds from federal COVID-19 emergency funding, according to a survey conducted by the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO).

The survey, conducted by ASBO, a professional membership organization, involved school business administrators from 116 U.S. school districts in 38 states. The survey aimed to gather information on spending priorities, strategies, and challenges related to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund.

The ESSER funding was divided into three allocations. The recent survey by ASBO focused on the last two allocations, which were provided under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan.

When it came to spending for student academic recovery needs, respondents of the ASBO survey highlighted the strategy of expanding summer learning and enrichment programs as the most popular approach. This approach has been recognized by researchers, educators, and policymakers as one of the most effective ways to help students recover from pandemic-related learning setbacks. Other strategies include tutoring and encouraging student attendance.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, slightly over 80% of public schools offered summer school programs in 2023. However, it is anticipated that fewer schools will be able to sustain robust summer activities as the ESSER funding diminishes. The deadline for ESSER II funding was September 30, 2023, while the deadline for ESSER III funding under the American Rescue Plan is September 30 of this year.

A total of $189 billion was provided to schools for pandemic recovery across all three ESSER allocations.

ASBO Executive Director James Rowan expressed the need for continued support from local, state, and federal entities once the ESSER funds are no longer available to ensure the necessary resources for students.

Top ARP spending categories for school districts

Addressing learning loss remained the most common spending category for ESSER II, according to the survey data.

Academic recovery and staffing needs

The top factor influencing spending decisions, as indicated by the polling, was addressing rising student mental health, social-emotional, and behavioral needs. Other contributing factors included achieving financial stability, responding to declining test scores, and evidence of learning loss necessitating academic interventions.

Assessment results from 2023 revealed that many students were performing below pre-COVID levels or had stagnant results. However, some states demonstrated small improvements in scores compared to 2022, according to test score data briefs published by the COVID-19 School Data Hub.

Concerns have been raised by educators, families, advocates, and lawmakers regarding performance gaps for underserved students and low school readiness rates for young students.

The ASBO survey found that 63% of districts allocated more than 20% of their ESSER II funding to address learning loss. For ESSER III, 80% of districts had already met the required 20% set aside for academic recovery spending by September 30, 2023. Additionally, 44% of respondents stated that their districts allocated more than half of their ESSER III funding to academic interventions.

School district ESSER funding for staffing needs

Nearly half of the survey respondents mentioned that ESSER funding for staffing needs is being utilized for professional development.

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