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CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) I Fund


Overview

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted in March 2020, which included $30.75 billion nationally for an Education Stabilization Fund. The Education Stabilization Fund was allocated according to the following percentages:

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

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

Colorado was allocated $120,993,782 from the U.S. Department of Education from the ESSER Fund.  Of the total allocation to Colorado, CDE was required to allocate a minimum of $108,894,404 (90%) to local education agencies (LEAs) and was able to reserve no more than $12,099,378 (10%).  Of the state reserve, CDE may use no more than $604,969 (half 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 created a document listing the ESSER I allocations for each LEA  (PDF)

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.

Additional Resources and Technical Assistance

State Set Aside Funds

From Colorado’s ESSER I allocation, CDE was allowed to reserve no more than $12,099,378 (10%) to address emergency needs as determined by the department to address issues related to COVID-19.  Of the state reserve, CDE may use no more than $604,969 (half of 1%) for administrative purposes. 

In the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021, CDE distributed $4M of the state reserve to school districts, BOCES and Tribes that received little or no relief funding in LEA distribution; the distribution also provided additional broadband services and support to students with the greatest needs.

The $4 million was distributed in the following ways:

  • $750,000 to help BOCES with gaps in their special education funding and to provide operational support for BOCES with brick-and-mortar schools.
  • $70,000 to support educational needs of the Colorado Tribes.
  • $320,000 for 11 districts to support educational needs of the Native American students. 
  • $1.5 million for districts that did not receive or received a very small allocation from the 90% allocation. 
  • $1.3 million for districts, BOCES and Tribes for connectivity to broadband. 

CDE has created a spreadsheet for the initial allocation each LEA will receive in this distribution of supplemental ESSER funds. 

In the spring of 2021, CDE determined to distribute an additional $3.6M of the state reserve to facility schools and to supplement support for online learning.

The $3.6M was distributed in the following ways:

  • $3,000,000 for online courses that districts may use to supplement in-person learning
  • $584,400 for facility schools

CDE has created a spreadsheet for the initial allocation each facility school will receive in this distribution of supplemental ESSER funds.

CDE has allocated an additional $1.1M of the state reserve to support substitute development and placement.

The use of the remaining state set aside funds will be determined by the commissioner.

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

Similar to Title funding, ESSER has a provision to provide equitable services to non-public schools.  The guidance on calculating equitable services changed in the spring and summer of 2020.  

In July 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) published an Interim Final Rule (IFR) (PDF) regarding equitable services under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In September 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an issued an opinion (PDF) and an an order vacating the IFR (PDF).  Accordingly, the IFR is no longer in effect and the process for calculating equitable services described in the CARES Act has been restored.

Because the IFR is no longer in effect, LEAs must calculate proportionate share  “in the same manner as” Title I funds  in order to be in compliance with the CARES Act.  

CDE's ESSER application previously allowed LEAs to calculate proportionate share using the total student enrollment in the district and non-public schools (per IFR) or to calculate the proportionate share based on the Title I process called for in the CARES Act. The application has been updated in alignment with court ruling and will allow districts to calculate the proportionate share using low income students.

If an LEA used any of the methods allowed under the IFR while it was in effect between July 1 and Sept. 4 and has already obligated funds for equitable services, the LEA does not need to change the calculations or consult again with the non-public schools.  If an LEA has not yet obligated funds, the LEA must consult with its non-public schools again and recalculate equitable services using the procedure in the CARES Act.  If an LEA used the CARES Act method, no changes are required. 

Districts will need to consult with non-public schools to determine support available and collect the necessary information to perform the proportionate share calculation.

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 submitted the application on May 5, 2020, to the U.S. Department of Education and released the ESSER application for funds on May 31, 2020. CDE created a streamlined application that meets the assurances and requirements delineated in the signed USDE Certification and Agreement document provided below.

Period of Grant Funding