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Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Grant FAQs

Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the ESSER grants. The U.S. Department of Education has also released a FAQs document.

For additional questions not answered below, please send a message to the ESSER inbox.


  • USED: U.S. Department of Education
  • LEA: Local Education Agency. In Oregon, only school districts are considered LEAs.​
  • ESSER: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund​
  • CARES Act: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Established ESSER I.
  • CRRSA Act: Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. Established ESSER II.​
  • ARP Act: American Rescue Plan Act. Established ESSER III (ARP ESSER).​​​​

What is ESSE​​​​​​R?

The Elementary and ​Secondary Education Relief (ESSER) Fund was created to provide local educational agencies (LEAs) with emergency relief funds to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools. There have been three rounds of ESSER funding since the pandemic began:

  • ESSER I. Established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020;
  • ESSER II. Established by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act on December 27, 2020; and
  • ESSER III. Established by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act on March 11, 2021.

What is the Uniform Guidance in 2 CFR Part 200?

Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter II, Part 200​ of the Code of Federal Regulations lays out rules for grants and agreements, including administrative requirements, cost principles, and audit requirements for federal awards. These rules describe the processes and basic requirements associated with spending all federal dollars.​​​​

How is ESSER III (ARP ESSER) different from ESSER I and II?

In addition to providing substantially more money than ESSER I and II, ESSER III has some different requirements. First, ESSER III requires that districts two supplemental plans: the ESSER III District Plan and the Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan.

While the funds authorized by the CARES Act and the supplemental appropriations of the CRRSA Act had few limitations, 20% of the funds received under ESSER III must address the issue of lost instructional time due to the pandemic, or what Oregon has called “unfinished learning.” There are a wide variety of activities that count as addressing unfinished learning, including activities that improve teaching and learning generally, activities to extend learning time (e.g., summer learning, after school programs), and activities that engage parents and community in supporting student learning.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Do districts have to provide all of the activities and services funded by the ESSER grants?

No. LEAs may provide services directly or enter into contracts and interagency agreements for allowable activities. However, districts are not authorized to award subgrants with ESSER funds.

Are districts required to do Time and Effort reporting for ESSER?

Time and effort reporting is required if an individual employee is splitting their time between activities that may be funded by ESSER and activities that are not allowable under ESSER. However, this situation would be unusual, given that districts are authorized to use ESSER funds on a wide variety of activities.

Districts must continue to maintain the same records generally maintained for salaries and wages, including for employees in leave status, as long as payments to employees in leave status are made consistent with grantee policies and procedures that apply to all employees, whether they are paid with Federal or other funds. (For more information on paying employees in leave status, see this Fact Sheet from the US Dep​artment of Education​.)​​​​

How long are ESSER f​​unds available?

The last day to expend funds for each of the ESSER grants is as follows:

  • ESSER I: September 30, 2022
  • ESSER II: September 30, 2023
  • ESSER III: September 30, 2024

May districts use ESSER funds for expenses incurred prior to receiving the funds?

Yes. Districts may use funds from any of the ESSER grants for expenses incurred on or after March 13, 2020, the date the President declared the national emergency due to COVID-19.​​​​​​

How were ESSER allocations determined?

All states were required to allocate at least 90 percent of its ESSER funds as subgrants to LEAs. LEAs received amounts in proportion to the amount LEAs received under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA).

How do districts determine allocations to schools?

LEAs are not required to allocate funds to all schools using a similar formula. Instead, funds should be allocated according to greatest need for pandemic-related relief, and for the students most underserved. Funds are distributed to LEAs using the Title I, Part A allocations to ensure that ESSER funds are targeted at where there is disproportionate need.

In determining need, districts must engage in meaningful consultation with all school leaders in determining where to target the funds.​

Do charter schools receive a specific allocation?

No. ESSER funds are allocated to LEAs, and just as there is no requirement to allocate a specific amount of money to each school, there is no requirement to allocate a specific amount of funds to charter schools. However, charter school leaders must be consulted about use of funds, and districts should ensure the needs of students attending charter schools are considered equally with students attending non-charter schools and ensure that funds are being directed where needs are greatest.

One tool districts may use to estimate an appropriate amount of funds to pass through to their charter schools is to multiply the total district allocation by the percent of ADM or ADMw the charter school represents of the total district ADM or ADMw.​

How may districts use ESSER funds?

The purpose of ESSER is to fund activities necessary to maintain continuity of services and/or prevent, prepare for, or respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This full list of eligible uses for each ESSER grant can be found as follows:

ESSER funds may be used to hire a broad range of professionals who deliver mental health services and supports, including but not limited to nurses, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers.

Districts should think broadly about the impact of COVID-19 on students and communities, and about preparing for the future. This may include coordinating preparedness and response efforts of districts with State, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments, and other relevant agencies, to improve coordinated responses among such entities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.

Is it allowable to use funds to respond to problems that existed before COVID-19?

Yes. ESSER funds may be used for activities indirectly related to the impact of COVID-19, including addressing challenges that existed before the pandemic. For example, funds may go towards improving curriculum and assessment, creating or enhancing full-service community schools, making improvements to facilities, and as outlined in the USED Volume 2 COVID Handbook, provided such uses are consistent with statutory requirements and the Uniform Guidance in 2 CFR Part 200​.

Can indirect/administrative expenses be charged to the ESSER grants?

Yes. Districts may charge indirect/administrative expenses to all three of their ESSER grants according to their federally negotiated indirect rate. For questions regarding your district's​ indirect rate, including to establish one, please contact Julie Hansen​.

May districts use ESSER funds for preschool or early learning activities?

Yes. Preschool, early learning, and activities that support early childhood development are all allowable. These include activities in the community that support early learning and development.

May districts use ESSER funds to provide transportation for students to and from school?

Yes. Supporting or providing transportation services for students is an allowable use of funds under ESSER as long as the need is related to COVID-19 (e.g., to support daily attendance at school to address the impact of lost instructional time) and the cost is reasonable and necessary. This could include, but is not limited to, transportation services provided directly by the school district; the cost of public transportation services (e.g., bus or subway fare); taxis, rideshare apps, or other driving services; or compensation to parents or guardians for providing transportation services for their children. Please see the following question for more information on compensating parents or guardians for transporting their students.

May districts facing a shortage of school bus drivers use ESSER funds to compensate parents or guardians for transporting their students to and from school?

Yes. ESSER funds may be used to reimburse parents or guardians for transportation costs or to offer a stipend for transportation costs, as long as they are reasonable and necessary. This type of program may be appropriate to sustain in-person instruction if a district is experiencing challenges hiring and/or retaining the school bus drivers necessary to accommodate the district’s transportation needs.

Before compensating parents or guardians for transportation costs, districts must develop clear, objective procedures that, in addition to other relevant factors, consider: the number of days of transportation provided for in-person attendance; documentation of the travel costs to ensure that the compensation is used only for transportation-related expenses; and a process to account for any ESSER funds that were paid to parents or guardians but not used for transportation costs.

Can ESSER funds be used for retention bonuses or hazard pay to staff members who have worked through the pandemic?

Yes, ESSER I, II, or III funds may be used for staff stipends, retention bonuses, and hazard pay, as long as they are necessary and reasonable in amount.

Can districts use ESSER funds on facilities? What about constructing new buildings?

Yes. ESSER funds may be used for both renovations to existing buildings and new construction. Capital expenditures must be reasonable and necessary for addressing safety issues, such as improving ventilation, creating new hallways that allow for greater distancing, and remodeling spaces for classroom instruction. New construction is permitted if renovations to existing buildings would exceed the costs of building new or if additional classrooms are needed to ensure proper distancing.

Note: Districts must first obtain ODE approval for capital expenditures for them to be considered eligible for reimbursement. Please see the Capital Expenditures section of this FAQ for more information.​​​​​​​​​​​

​Must districts obtain ODE approval for capital expenditures for all three ESSER grants?

No. The requirement to obtain ODE approval for capital expenditures only applies to ESSER II and ESSER III.​

How are capital expenses defined for the purposes of ESSER reimbursement?

Capital expenditures are defined as any individual non-consumable item or construction project that:

  • Has a useful life of more than one year; and
  • Costs $5,000 or more.

How do districts obtain ODE approval for capital expenditures?

Districts must submit a Capital Expenditure Approval Form to the ESSER inbox.

What is the timeline for approval of Capital Expenditure Approval Forms?

It typically takes two to three weeks for an approval form to be reviewed.

When in the Capital Expenditure Approval process must districts obtain their school board’s approval?

For capital expenditures that cost greater than $25,000, districts must obtain their school board’s approval. Districts may submit approval forms to ODE and receive ODE approval prior to obtaining school board approval. However, the district’s school board must provide their approval prior to the district expending the funds.

Is it possible to update the approved budget for a capital expenditure?

Yes. If the final cost of a capital expenditure is higher or lower than the estimated amount submitted on the approval form, please send an email to the ESSER inbox​ stating the Project Tag​ and the updated cost. The ESSER Team will review the request and confirm the project is reapproved for the updated cost or ask for additional information.​


What if our schools never closed and our district doesn't have unfinished learning to address?

Even if your school never closed, you must direct at least 20% of your ESSER III funds to activities connected to unfinished learning. ESSER funds should go towards accelerating learning for students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with a focus on students who did not participate successfully in distance learning. Funds should also go towards mental health supports for students who may have lost loved ones and be struggling to concentrate in class. Since March 2019 students and families in Oregon may have experienced being unhoused, lost access to hot meals, and faced other challenges that impact learning. Activities that help students attain grade-level standards, that support their continued engagement in school, and that help them stay on track to graduate are all encouraged to meet the 20% unfinished learning requirement.​

Where can I find the most recent updates and news relevant to COVID-19 funding?​

Please see the following USED webpages: