Feds Update Education COVID Relief Guidance

The U.S. Department of Education has updated guidance on local school spending of COVID relief funds, in correspondence with a May extension of the spending deadline.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has updated guidance on local spending of public school-targeted COVID funding specific to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. USDE reports that, “as of today, over 96 percent of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding has been spent to help safely reopen schools and address the needs of our students.”

In May, USDE agreed to consider applications to extend the deadline for local education agencies (LEAs) to spend pandemic relief money provided. Such funding’s goal is to help LEAs “prevent, prepare for, and respond to” COVID-19. That guidance hypothetically allowed LEAs to pursue an extension of up to 18-months. The original deadline was set for September 30.

Notably, while this new guidance addresses request and approval procedures for the $13.2 billion CARES Act allocation for public schools, it does not clarify spending deadlines for the $121.9 billion by the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds.

A letter issued by USDE regarding the new guidance states:

The Department acknowledges that some grantees may require flexibility liquidating remaining ESSER and GEER funds under the CARES Act that are properly obligated by the September 30, 2022, deadline. Accordingly, the Department is offering a liquidation extension request process for immediate use by grantees. This process ensures strong accountability for the use of funds and important safeguards for States and subgrantees. Under 2 CFR § 200.344(b), properly obligated funds must be liquidated within 120 calendar days (or by January 28, 2023, for CARES Act funds). The Department has the authority to approve liquidation extension requests for properly obligated funds upon review of a written request made by a grantee on its own behalf or on behalf of its subgrantees. Final approval of a grantee’s written request will be based upon the specific facts and circumstances, in accordance with 2 CFR § 200.344(b). If approved under this process, grantees and subgrantees may have an extension to the liquidation period of up to 14 months beyond the 120 days already available to liquidate funds.

Under the updated guidance:

  • State school districts (in this case, the Maryland State Department of Education) can request spending extensions for CARES funding on their own behalf, as well as on the behalf of districts in their states:
    • “Grantees must submit an extension request to the Department’s Office of State and Grantee Relations (SGR) on their own behalf or on behalf of their subgrantees. A grantee requesting a liquidation extension for its subgrantees must assure that it will continue to conduct oversight of the subgrantees, attest to the allowability of the expenses to be liquidated, maintain documentation to support the expenditures’ timely obligation, and attest that included subgrantees are low-risk entities. Grantees, at their discretion, may use their oversight authority to collect any additional information and documentation they deem necessary to support the liquidation extension request and ensure proper oversight of subgrantees.”

Read the full guidance letter.