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CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF)


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted on March 27, 2020, a $2 trillion package of assistance measures, including $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund. The Education Stabilization Fund will be allocated according to the following percentages:

  • 9.8 percent to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund ($2.95 billion)
  • 43.9 percent to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund ($13.23 billion)
  • 46.3 percent to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund ($13.95 billion)

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund dollars will be appropriated to state education agencies (SEAs) based on the previous year’s Title I shares, with 90% to be allocated to local education agencies that received a Title I allocation in the most recent fiscal year and the remaining 10% for an SEA reserve fund. LEA allocations will be calculated using the Title I formula however relief funds will not be subject to Title I requirements.  

Colorado has been allocated $120,993,782 from the U.S. Department of Education from the ESSER Fund.  Of the total allocation to Colorado, CDE must allocate a minimum of $108,894,404 (90%) to local education agencies (LEAs) and may reserve no more than $12,099,378 (10%).  Of the state reserve, CDE may use no more than $604,969 (½ of 1%) for administrative purposes.  The 10% SEA reserve is to be used for emergency needs as determined by the SEA to address issues related to COVID-19, which may be addressed through the use of grants or contracts.

Projected LEA Allocations 

CDE has created a spreadsheet to project the estimated allocation each LEA will receive in ESSER funds (PDF). The actual allocations may vary slightly. 

Allowable Use of Funds for LEAs

LEA allocations under ESSER must be used to address the impact COVID-19 has had and continues to have on elementary and secondary schools within the LEAs boundaries, including continuing educational services to students during school building closures and developing and implementing plans for the return to normal operations.

While ESSER allocations are calculated using the Title I formula, these funds may be used for any allowable activities under ESSER and are not subject to Title I requirements.  In general, LEAs can use ESSER funds for activities authorized by ESEA, IDEA, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Perkins CTE Act, or the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  Examples of allowable activities include coordination with public health, purchasing educational technology, planning for long term closures, training and supplies for sanitation, mental health support, summer school and after school programs, funds for principals to address local needs, and other activities to continue school operations and employment of existing staff. For a full list of allowable uses, please review Appendix A of the ESSER Fund Certification and Agreement (PDF) from the U.S. Department of Education (which delineates Section 18003(d) of the CARES Act). 

Both the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund have a provision to provide equitable services to non-public schools.

Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-public Schools 

Under the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund, LEAs that receive funds from ESSER or GEER must provide equitable services to students and teachers in non-public schools “in the same manner as” they do with Title funds. On June 25, 2020 the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) regarding the calculation of equitable services for non-public schools for the CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. The rule is meant to clarify the apparent discrepancy between language in the CARES Act with its non-binding guidance (PDF).  

Under the new rule, the USDOE directs local education agencies (LEAs) to calculate the proportionate share for equitable services to nonpublic schools based on how they intend to use ESSER funds within their districts. LEAs that intend to use their ESSER funds to support all schools must base the calculation of equitable services based on the total population of students in non-public schools in the LEA. If the LEA intends to use their ESSER funds only for Title I schools, then the calculation for equitable services must be based on the proportion of eligible students in poverty in the Title I attendance areas. CDE will adjust its ESSER application to calculate proportionate share based on how the district intends to use the ESSER funds. LEAs should prepare to modify their budgets and adjust conversations with non-public schools, if necessary. CDE will be working with LEAs who have already submitted their ESSER applications to assist with any adjustments that may be necessary to meet the new USDOE rule.

The Interim final rule became effective July 1, 2020. Public comment must be received on or before July 31, 2020 and submitted through the (Federal eRulemaking Portal) or by mail to Amy Huber, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW, Room 3W219, Washington, DC 20202. Instructions for accessing agency documents, submitting comments, and viewing the docket, is available on the site under “How to use”.

ESSER Funds and Charter Schools

The CARES Act does not directly address allocation of district ESSER funds to charter schools that are not standalone LEAs. The clear legislative intent, however, is to benefit all public schools and students regardless of school type. See, e.g., CARES Act Sec. 18003(d)(3).  CDE asks that districts include their charter schools on equal footing with traditional schools, when determining the most important educational needs as a result of COVID-19, consistent with the intent of the CARES Act and the intent of Colorado law, see C.R.S. 22-30.5-112(3).  LEAs must meaningfully engage all school leaders, including charter school leaders, in determining their plans for using ESSER funds.

Release of ESSER Fund Certifications and Agreements 

On April 23, 2020, CDE received the ESSER Fund State Allocations table, certification and agreement (the State’s application for ESSER funds). CDE will submit the application to the U.S. Department of Education as soon as possible and will begin working on the LEA application for funds. CDE is striving to create a streamlined and efficient process for developing an LEA application that meets the assurances and requirements delineated in the USDE’s certification and agreement document (below).

Period of Grant Funding

  • SEAs must award funds within one year of receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • The initial award period is from March 13, 2020 through June 30, 2021 and LEAs have until September 30, 2022 to expend funds

Next Steps

CDE will engage stakeholders to the extent possible to get input on discretionary state fund use and on the process CDE will use to make the  state reserve funds available. CDE is committed to ensuring the most streamlined process possible for using the state reserve funds to address COVID-19 related issues in Colorado, in a manner that is responsive to the needs identified through stakeholder input and with the Governor’s efforts with GEER funds.

CDE is reviewing the responses to a stakeholder survey on input on how CDE may use the 10% state reserve funds under the CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). 

CDE is in the process of finalizing the process for LEAs to apply for the LEA portion of ESSER funds (the 90% being distributed to LEAs) and anticipates releases the application by the end of May.