The COVID-19 pandemic hit schools hard, forcing more than 90% of students into unprecedented distance learning scenarios—many of which were less effective than you’d hope. The World Economic Forum estimates that the COVID generation could lose a collective $17 trillion in lifetime earnings due to severe learning loss and economic disruptions.
Educators at every level are struggling to forestall the worst of these effects. But the recovery won’t come cheap. Luckily, a series of pandemic recovery laws are funding the effort to get students back on track in the United States:
- In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Among other investments, the CARES Act created an Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) specifically to pay for relief efforts at the nations’ schools.
- In December 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act allocated more funds to the ESF.
- In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act added another round of funding to the ESF.
As of June 2022, the ESF had invested more than $263 billion into COVID recovery efforts at U.S. schools. So how can you claim a portion of these funds for the students at your education institution? Start by understanding approved expenses—and the various programs that move the money.
CARES Act Funding Programs: ESSER, GEER, and More
The U.S. Department of Education manages the ESF as a whole, but the program provides funds through four distinct emergency relief programs:
- The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) provides pandemic recovery funding to school districts in the U.S. The program provides money for state departments of education, which then award grants to districts and other local education agencies.
- The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) is similar to ESSER, but these funds aren’t limited to elementary and secondary school districts; colleges and universities are eligible for GEER funding, too. And as the name implies, the office of the state governor is in charge of dispensing GEER funding as grants.
- The Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS) program is a subset of the GEER fund, set aside for private schools and other non-public education institutions.
- The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) provides emergency grants for colleges, universities, trade schools, and other institutions of postsecondary education.
Most public school districts will apply for ESSER funds and/or GEER funds. Private schools focus on EANS funding, while higher education institutions may draw on both HEER and GEER grants. But regardless of grade level, the key question for educators is simple:
What can you use CARES Act funds to do?
We compiled as many uses of ESSER, GEER, and other CARES Act funding as we could to help you get ideas. Browse the list to learn what you need to know about CARES Act use of funds. Find more funding opportunities for education technology in our detailed guide to ed-tech grants.
What can ESSER funds be used for?
- Emergency funding
- Cleaning supplies
- Educational technology
- Mental health supports
- Supplemental learning
- At-risk population needs
- Coordinated services for long-term closures
- Professional development
- McKinney-Vento expenses
- Parent education
- Learning loss
- Air quality improvements
- Facility improvements
- Academic testing for purposes of identifying learning gaps
- Research-based curricular programs
- In-school reading/math interventions
- Digital learning resources
- Activities and services related to summer learning
- After-school academic support programs
- Needs associated with children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English Learners, marginalized groups, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth
- Family engagement opportunities (to assist parents and families in effectively supporting students)
- Resources and academic supports for early childhood (Pre-K to 2nd)
- After-school clubs and activities
- Community outreach to community early learning organizations
- Evidence-based SEL programs
- Social/emotional/behavioral support by way of school counselors and social workers
- Social/emotional screening tools to identify students in need of support
- Parent learning opportunities about trauma and ways to support students during a pandemic
- Professional development for teachers in the area of social/emotional learning and trauma
- EPA/OSHA-approved cleansers for frequently touched surfaces and materials
- Mask-wearing protocols
- Training and professional development on cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing and reduction of virus transmission
- Supplies and equipment to sanitize and clean facilities including electromagnetic sprayers
- Long-term closure planning, including providing meals to eligible students/families
- HVAC replacements for elementary buildings to improve air quality
- Physical, digital, and online security enhancements
- AIMs Web subscription
- Sanitizing science room cabinets
- Portable teacher’s stations
- Student Chromebooks for FY23 and FY24
- Two printers in library for Chromebooks
- Salaries for non-certified employees
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize risk of virus spread
- Air purifiers to ensure the highest quality air in school spaces
- Modular building leases for two additional classrooms and bathrooms for space and/or social distancing
- Summer enrichment programs for 2022, 2023, and 2024
- After-school and extended day programs
- Additional teachers, teachers’ aides, and other instructional staff to reduce classroom sizes and provide more dedicated and intensive instruction
- Technology purchases that will assist with continuation of learning after the school day or in remote instruction models
What can GEER funds be used for?
- Staff/Employee expenses
- Infrastructure and technology to support remote learning
- Academic support for libraries, laboratories, and other academic facilities
- Institutional support for activities related to personnel, payroll, environmental health, and safety
- Student services that promote emotional and physical well-being outside the context of the formal instructional program
- Student financial aid, such as IHE-sponsored grants and scholarships
- Activities for children with disabilities
- Funds for low-income families to help mitigate financial barriers
- Emergency assistance to non-public schools
- Necessary resources to stay open during the pandemic
- Reliable technology and internet access
- Supplies to sanitize, disinfect, and clean school facilities, including PPE and ventilation system improvements
- Cost of training for new remote-learning software tools
- Relief funds for after-school programs
- Facility modifications to allow for physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
- Expanded Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training
- School nursing expenses
- Development and expansion of high quality, comprehensive summer learning opportunities and partnerships in districts
- Career training opportunities
- Online AP classes for college preparation
- Mental health and addiction services
- Music and arts education
- Hot spots for students
- New construction of on-site facilities
- IT infrastructure and data security upgrades
- Increased funding for programs that serve children with disabilities, English learners, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students
- Textbook upgrades
Sources: Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Ennis Britton Co., L.P.A., Texas Higher Education – Coordinating Board, U.S. Department of Education, ESEA Network, University of South Carolina, Texas Private Schools Association, Carteret Community College, Yankton Daily, Boro Pulse, WRAL, Alabama Department of Education, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Dallas College, Tennessee Department of Education, Cincinnati State, NAMM, Urban Milwaukee, Pennsylvania Department of Education, FR Secure, Nevada Department of Education, SPARC Open
What can HEERF funds be used for?
- Expenses incurred by students due to teaching disruption and a change in campus services
- Infrastructure and software needed to transition to online teaching
- Training costs associated with preparing the faculty for distance teaching
- Administrative costs directly associated with the pandemic
- Mental health
- Student laptops to support change in instructional delivery
- Campus safety and operations resources
- WIFI network and infrastructure upgrades to support changes to instructional delivery
- Lost revenue recovery experienced in campus stores and vending machines
- Lost revenue recovery due to reduced enrollment
- Accredited infection prevention certification training for facilities and operations personnel to support campus environmental health
- Software licensing subscriptions to support changes in instructional delivery
- PPE; cleaning supplies; reconfigurations of facilities; storage pods
- Supplies to support a reduced number of students sharing equipment
- Shipping of science lab kits to students
- Expenses for HEERF audit
- Routine COVID testing
- Housing/Board refunds
- Institutional student pay for work disrupted by COVID
- Paid administrative leave and liberal leave/comp time relative to changes in delivery of instruction/closure
- Payroll costs for additional hours to provide technology to students
- Additional emergency financial aid grants to students
- Costs incurred due to cancellation of study abroad programs
Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Los Rios Community College, Valencia College, Century College, Howard Payne University, Millersville University, San Mateo County CCD – Skyline College, Wayne State University
Investing CARES Act Funds in Voice-Enhanced Assistive Technology Tools
As this list demonstrates, with ESSER, use of funds can vary widely. The same is true of GEER use of funds. If literacy support, better student engagement, and digital accessibility are part of your school’s COVID recovery plan, invest your CARES Act funding in text-to-speech (TTS) tools from ReadSpeaker. We offer a range of assistive technology tools to help students succeed. To experience ReadSpeaker for yourself, sign up for a free demo today.