You are here

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.  Under Title I, Districts provide “equitable services” to non-public school students and teachers by allocating a proportionate share of Title funds to non-public schools.  The proportionate share used to provide equitable services to non-public schools is based upon the number of students in poverty who live within the  district’s participating school attendance areas but attend non-public schools.

In April 2020, the U.S. Department of Education published non-binding guidance proposing  that LEAs provide equitable services to non-public school students and teachers based on the ratio of all students in the public and non-public sectors, rather than the proportion of eligible students in poverty in each sector as indicated in the CARES Act.  Given this discrepancy between statutory language and non-binding guidance, CDE is inclined to follow the plain language of the law--that “equitable services” to non-public schools be provided in the “same manner” as Title I. It is not clear if or how the U.S. Department of Education may clarify its guidance or attempt to require LEAs to allocate funds in the manner articulated in guidance. Given this uncertainty, LEAs might want to plan for the need for additional funds to be allocated for equitable services.

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.
  • LEAs can access funds through September 30, 2021 and will have one year beyond this date to spend the 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.