ESSER Funding Winds Down as State Budgets Cool

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By Jay Diskey, Diskey Public Affairs, LLC

Jay DiskeyAfter four years of providing unprecedented support for K-12 public schools, the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund will soon end. On September 30, “ESSER” as it is commonly called, will hit its Congressionally mandated deadline. School districts and states must use or commit the funds by that date.

The fund which totaled $189.5 billion, was established in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and represented the largest single investment in K-12 education in our nation’s history. The funds were vital in responding to pandemic health needs in public schools, supporting remote learning, and addressing learning loss.

According to the most recent data released by the U.S. Department of Education on April 30, 80.4% ($152.3 billion) of all ESSER funds have been spent. Approximately $37.2 billion remains to be spent or obligated by the September deadline. While the U.S. Department of Education will allow some extensions, it remains to be seen how much flexibility will be allowed.

The state with the highest drawdown percentage is Washington at 90.8%. Other states with high drawdown rates include Iowa 89.8%, Nevada, 89.4%, Arkansas 89.2%, Oklahoma 87%, North Carolina 86.3%, and Texas 86.1%. On the lower end of the spectrum, 14 states have drawdown percentages of 75% or less. This group includes Maryland 72.8%, New York 72.6%, Maine 70.9%, and Nebraska 67%.

The loss of ESSER funds will be significant, but will vary greatly among the nation’s 13,000 school districts. Local news reports indicate that some districts are now cutting personnel, expenses, and expenditures on services and products.

The end of ESSER funding arrives as state spending on K-12 education returns to historical norms of zero to 5% annual increases. During the pandemic, buoyed by ESSER funds, state legislatures across the country allocated unprecedented funding for K-12 education. Fiscal year 2025 will be a different story. Forty-six states have thus far passed budgets for FY 2025. Of the 46, 27 states approved K-12 spending plans with modest increases and 19 passed budgets that are essentially flat over last year’s levels.

In summary, fiscal year 2025 will present challenges to many of the nation’s school districts. Following four years of unprecedented growth, budget tightening has arrived. I will be discussing how these changes could affect edtech providers and education publishers during my next webinar with Westchester Education on July 18. Register today and submit your questions.

Jay Diskey is a policy consultant to Westchester Education Services. He is the principal of Diskey Public Affairs, a Washington DC consultancy specializing in education policy, curriculum reform, publishing, and technology.

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