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Funding Sustainably in a Post-ESSER World

With the 2022-23 school year underway, system leaders are on the clock to make the best use of their remaining ESSER funds. The unprecedented disruption to public education has created an openness to change and an opportunity to invest in the evidence-based practices that researchers and reformers have spent years advocating for.

And philanthropy has a key role to play in helping system leaders make strategic investments in critical areas—high-dosage tutoring, professional development, summer learning, and more—that should continue in a post-ESSER world. Funders can help district leaders identify the highest-impact investments and implement Do Now, Build Toward resource allocation strategies within their post-ESSER budgets to keep those investments going (see image to right). 

Funders can encourage and support district leaders to invest their remaining ESSER dollars in research-backed strategies as long-term priorities, implementing approaches that are financially sustainable over time

After more than a century of unchanging school designs, there is suddenly an openness to change—redesigning  schedules, rethinking teacher roles, involving outside providers during and after school, extending the school year, and so many more reforms are on the table. To ensure students receive the strongest teaching possible and other support they need, some district leaders have invested ESSER funds to take steps toward this redesign.

But to ensure sustainable transformation, rather than short-term fixes, system leaders need a Do Now, Build Toward approach. Foundations can support districts now to develop their long-term visions, understand the full costs of their investments, build central office and school capacity, redesign their planning processes, monitor and adjust efforts, and strategically realign cost structures to enable sustained investments. In the context of national demographic and student enrollment trends that may mean bigger revenue declines in a post-ESSER world, districts can’t afford to rely on foundation dollars to keep their best investments going. Instead, funders can help districts create an integrated and coherent strategy that aligns resources with student needs and makes the necessary shifts to sustain those investments over the long-term.

As you engage with your grantees, here are some questions you can ask to help district leaders prioritize high-yield investments and sustainability

  • Are there ways I can help address barriers to spending ESSER dollars? 
  • Which are the highest-impact strategies you are investing in now that you want to ensure students continue to have access to? 
  • How can I help you explore new ways of organizing your resources to result in a coherent experience for students and teachers? 
  • How can I support you in transitioning to new, sustainable cost structures that provide teachers with the support they need to personalize instruction and improve effectiveness? 
  • Can I support you in measuring the ROI of new strategies to evolve the work with a continuous improvement lens? 

ERS is partnering with many of you to get the right tools into district leaders’ hands, ensuring that they are investing in research-backed strategies that work for students. We’re doubling down on reaching as many leaders as possible. The end of ESSER will be a stern test—but tests are opportunities to use all we have learned. This test will be no different. The stakes may be high, but we’re excited about the potential this year presents. Let’s make it count. 

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