The United States Department of Education recently updated its FAQs on federal COVID-19 relief funding allowances and requirements. This comes as nationwide spending of the aid reaches the halfway mark.
Updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) for state and local education agency (LEA) spending of the roughly $189.5 billion in federal COVID-19 emergency funding provides more details on allowances and restrictions for expenditures. However, the new guidance does not provide additional information on extensions for investment/expense of the final two sets of aid allocations.
The updates come as LEAs reach the hallways mark on the federal aid lifecycle of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Programs (GEERs). Education reporting and analysis site K-12 noted:
As the education system hits the halfway mark of the ESSER lifecycle, education leaders are being urged to assess their spending practices to date and make decisions about the use of remaining funds.
The updated USDE FAQ document provides more information on permitted and prohibited expenditures of the federal aid. For example, the updated guidance explains how:
- The funding can be used for certain construction and capital projects;
- For example, included in the updates is guidance on approved expenses for when natural disasters damage LEA buildings or equipment.
- ESSER funding cannot be used, however, to renovate or construct athletic facilities, such as playing fields and swimming pools, “unless there is a connection between the expenditure and the district’s COVID-19 response.”
- The funding can be spent on family engagement activities and assessments for multilingual learners;
In order to address the needs of English learners, an LEA may use ESSER and GEER funds to address the impact of lost instructional time and services, support culturally responsive instruction, and support family engagement activities.
- The funding can be used to pay for student fees related to the arts, theater, and music classes under certain circumstances; and
- Because ESSER or GEER funds may be used to support activities addressing the unique needs of students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, English learners, students of color, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care, and help students recover from the pandemic an LEA may use ESSER or GEER funds to pay fees, including outstanding balances, to help ensure equitable access to programs that meet students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs. Alternatively, an LEA could use ESSER or GEER funds to support such activities for all students, such that no fee is charged.
Additionally, the updated guidances affirms that LEAs do not need to complete environmental impact assessments for projects using ESSER and GEER funds:
- The Department does not exercise control over the use of the funds for any individual project as long as the project continues to meet all statutory and other applicable requirements (such as the Uniform Guidance and the Department’s administrative regulations). As a result, construction, renovation, or real property projects supported by ESSER or GEER grants are not considered a “major Federal action” under NEPA and are not subject to 34 CFR § 75.601.
These are just some of the December 7 updates to the FAQs, access the full guidance online.