As school districts race to counteract the effects of the pandemic on students, one particular challenge looms large: On September 30, 2024, COVID relief funding for public K-12 education will officially expire.
While there are still plenty of ways to spend these ESSER dollars strategically and with long-term sustainability in mind, some states have a more complex challenge ahead of them.
We looked at three significant factors that will affect how the ESSER cliff is felt by each state:
We also considered the intersection of these three factors to determine what this means for each state.
Use the links above if you’d like to read more about a particular factor or skip ahead the see which states will be most heavily impacted by the loss of ESSER funds.
When the federal government distributed COVID relief funding for K-12 education, states received funds based on the formula that determined ESEA Title I funding. The states, in turn, distributed those funds to districts using that same formula.
What does this mean for the upcoming cliff? While ESSER represented 4-17% of each state’s total revenue, the variance was even wider from district to district: Some districts received no ESSER funds at all, while the highest-need districts saw increases of 40% or more.
In some states, poverty—one significant indicator of student need—is concentrated in just a handful of districts. Those districts received a massive amount of ESSER funding, while other districts in the state received much less. This means that state education agencies can target a few key districts when it comes to offering support and guidance for spending remaining ESSER funds and planning for sustainability.
States where many of their districts are serving significant proportions of students living in poverty face a tougher challenge: ESSER dollars were more widely distributed, so as the spending deadline approaches, these states will need to find ways to support all these districts.
Even in a state where a low percentage of districts serve students living in poverty, it’s possible that those districts represent a relatively large percentage of students overall. (Higher-need districts might have larger enrollment numbers than districts in more affluent areas of the state.)
Consider New York. Though relatively few districts in the state serve students living in poverty, the city of New York alone serves an enormous number of the state’s students overall. The state of New York, then, has a low percentage of higher-need districts (“factor 2” above), but a high percentage of students attending school in a higher-need district.
For these states, regardless of whether the need is widely distributed, they have higher need overall: many students who are in need of ESSER-funded initiatives and many students who stand to feel the effect most keenly when ESSER funding goes away.
While the factors above will significantly influence how sharply the ESSER funding cliff is felt, the overall picture is, of course, complex. Here are just a few other considerations:
Districts in every state are beginning to plan for life after ESSER. Even in “lower-risk” states, there are districts that received major funding. For example, Denver and St. Paul could face significant fiscal cliffs when ESSER expires.
And so, while some states should put even more effort into supporting districts in sustainability efforts, there are districts across the country that could use help as the deadline approaches.
Districts will need to consider what initiatives they want to continue post-ESSER and what tradeoffs they will make in order to keep paying for them. (It’s not too late to do an “ESSER Halftime Review” in order to collect data, understand the impact of ESSER initiatives so far, and plan your next steps!)
And as for states, there are a number of steps each state can take to help support districts as September 2024 draws nearer.
See How States Can Help Districts Navigate ESSER Funding Cliffs
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