The U.S. Department of Education will consider requests from local school districts for an 18-month extension on spending COVID-19 emergency funds.
In a May 13 letter, the U.S. Department of Education agreed to consider applications to extend the deadline for LEAs to spend pandemic relief money provided by the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund. The ARP ESSER program’s goal is to help LEAs “prevent, prepare for, and respond to” COVID-19.
Should a local school district be approved for an extension (of up to 18-months), it would allow that district to pushback the current September 30, 2024, obligation deadline, which the U.S. Department of Education says “is based on statutory and regulatory requirements, which reflect the intent of both the Administration and Congress to ensure that funds are spent expeditiously to address the impact of COVID-19 on students, educators, and schools.”
In January, the national School Superintendents Association (AASA) and 31 other education, health, environmental, labor and industry organizations sought a deadline extension, citing concerns and delays in the supply chain and workforce.
The Department’s May 13 letter acknowledges these challenges and states:
The Department has the authority to approve liquidation extension requests for properly obligated funds upon review of written requests made by the state educational agency (SEA). Should funds be properly and timely obligated—including the requirement a construction project meets the COVID-related purposes stated above—and liquidation becomes an issue closer to the obligation deadline, the Department has the authority to approve liquidation extension requests based upon the specific facts and circumstances of a given obligation and upon written request of an SEA grantee, in accordance with 2 CFR § 200.344(b). If approved, grantees may have up to 18 months beyond the end of the obligation period, although requests for longer may be considered related to extraordinary circumstances. Under a liquidation extension, the delivery of goods and services may continue to be provided through the end of the liquidation period, so long as a timely and valid obligation had been made pursuant to 34 C.F.R. § 76.707.
K-12 Dive, a national website reporting on education news and trends, explained some details on applying for a deadline extension, which counties might find useful:
- While the obligation deadline — when a district commits to use of certain funds — is based on statutory and regulatory requirements, the U.S. Department of Education can approve spending extension requests for “properly obligated funds.”
- Extension approvals would be based on specific facts and circumstances, and longer extensions may be considered for “extraordinary circumstances.”
- Spending extension requests need to be filed by state education agencies on behalf of districts (so, the Maryland Department of Education would do so on behalf of a county school district).
According to a study released last week by Association of School Business Officials International, “The inability to meet spending deadlines was one of the biggest challenges school district finance leaders face regarding the management of federal relief funding, according to a survey conducted by the Association of School Business Officials International, released this week.”
That same study found that most school districts surveyed were spending ESSER funds on the following to “repair, replace, or upgrade HVAC systems (47%) and to provide safer drinking water for students (28%).”