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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 December 7, 2022 U.S. Department of Education Updated FAQ - 12.14.2022.

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.​
  • SEA: State Education Agency. In Oregon, the Oregon Department of Education serves as the SEA.
  • 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 prov​​ide 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.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ The USED has provided this document to help districts plan activities to address unfinished learning.​ The USED has provided the Strategies for Using American Rescue Plan Funding to Address the Impact of Lost Instructional Time PDF​ to help districts plan activities to address unfinished 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​.

What are the reporting requirements? ​

Each year the U.S. Department of Education (USED) requires states to submit data on the expenditure of their ESSER I, II, and III funds to fulfill federal reporting requirements. 

ODE will use ESSER reimbursement data and other data already submitted to ODE to complete most of the federal report. However, there is some additional data that will need to be submitted by school districts, ESDs, and state-sponsored charter schools. More information can be found on the Annual Federal ESSER Data Collection webpage​

Information gathered for reporting in 2024 will include significantly more detail on ESSER fund use, including expenditures by activity and participation demographics for certain programs/activities. That data should be gathered during the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 fiscal years. ​​

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. In Oregon LEAs received amounts in proportion to the amount LEAs received under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA). Minimum grant amounts were set for each grant, as well.

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 are private schools included? 

ESSER I funds included provisions for private schools. Subsequent pandemic relief funding for private schools was administered through Emergency Assistance to Non-public Schools. See the Emergency Assistance to Non-public Schools - CRRSA and ARP program page for more information.

Are there other ESSER funds?

Yes. Additional funding to districts and Educational Service Districts was designated through the 10% of the grants held at the SEA level. That funding includes grants to the four state-sponsored charter schools, early childhood intervention programs, and specialized programs for Long Term Care and Treatment, Youth Corrections/Juvenile Detention Education Programs, and other unique needs. 

Additionally, the state is funding specific interventions and programs to address the impact of the pandemic. See ESSER III State Set-Aside Investments​ for more information.

​​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

Indirect rates may not be charged for capital projects, per the Oregon Indirect Cost Handbook and federal guidelines. Districts who used indirect rate for “distorting expenditures” such as capital projects in fiscal year 2022-2023 need to work with the state to reallocate those funds. 

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 requ​irement 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.
​Construction projects include material improvements of the school buildings, such as installation of security systems, renovations to school grounds, mold/mildew abatement, and remodeling. While installing a light fixture is not considered a capital project, rewiring the building is. Similarly, while changing a door lock is not a capital project, installing a key-card entry system is.
Capital Assets include items such as specialized equipment for CTE, floor cleaners, vehicles, and other items that cost more than $5000. They do not include laptops or personal computers or software for the machines.

​What are the base criteria for capital projects?​

  1. Comply with the Cost Principles in subpart E (e.g., the cost must be “necessary and reasonable” (2 CFR §§ 200.403-200.404));
  2. Meet the overall purpose of the CARES, CRRSA, or ARP Act programs, which is “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to” COVID-19; and
  3. Are consistent with the proper and efficient administration of those programs.​

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 ODE 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.

Do ESSER funded capital projects have different guidelines than state funded capital projects?

Yes. If part or all of a capital project is funded through federal dollars, the project is subject to additional Federal requirements. Approved construction projects (i.e., remodeling, renovation, and new construction) also must comply with applicable Uniform Guidance requirements, Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements, and all of the Department’s applicable regulations regarding construction at 34 CFR §§ 76.600 and 75.600-75.618. Some of the relevant part 75 requirements that must be considered before a new construction project is initiated include:
  1. Has the grantee considered the probable effects of proposed construction on any district, site, building, or structure that is included or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (34 CFR § 75.602)?
  2. Does the grantee have title or other interest in the site, including right of access, that is sufficient to ensure that the grantee will have use and possession of the facility for 50 years or the useful life of the facility, whichever is longer (34 CFR § 75.603)
  3. Can the grantee begin the approved construction in a reasonable time period and have the final plans been approved before the construction is advertised or placed on the market for bidding (34 CFR § 75.605)?
  4. Can a grantee complete the project in a reasonable time period and consistent with the approved plans and specifications (34 CFR § 75.606)?
  5. Is the construction functional, economical, and not elaborate in design or extravagant in the use of materials as compared to other facilities in the State or other applicable geographic area (34 CFR § 75.607)?
  6. Do the grantee’s plans and designs for the facilities comply with applicable Federal, State, and local health and safety standards, as well as Federal requirements regarding access by persons with disabilities (34 CFR §§ 75.609​ and 34 CFR §§ 75.610)?
  7. Does the grantee have sufficient operational funds to operate and maintain the facility once the construction is complete and will the grantee operate and maintain the facility in accordance with all applicable Federal, State, and local requirements (34 CFR §§ 75.614 and 34 CFR §§ 75.615)?
  8. Has the grantee filed a notice of Federal interest that must be executed on property when ESSER or GEER funds are used to purchase land, construct a building, or make improvements to a building on leased property (OMB Standard Form 424D)?
​If ESSER or GEER funds are used for construction, grantees and subgrantees should also be aware that real property and equipment acquired or improved under a Federal award must be appropriately insured, and grantees must consult with the Department on disposition instructions in the event that the property or equipment is no longer needed. See, e.g., 2 CFR §§ 200.310-200.313.
PREVAILING WAGE: Federally funded projects are subject to Davis Bacon prevailing wage requirements at a $2,000 threshold, rather than the state’s $50,000 threshold. They must also gather certified payroll information from all contractors.

May Capital Projects be considered as funds addressing “Unfinished Learning”?

The majority of capital projects are not eligible to count towards meeting the minimum 20% set aside in ESSER III for unfinished learning or learning loss. However, districts may request for a project to be considered by providing information about the specific learning related intervention and evidentiary base, as well as other information. Please email the ODE ESSER inbox for more information.​

May a district’s indirect rate be applied to capital projects?

Indirect rates may not be charged for capital projects, per the Oregon Indirect Cost Handbook and federal guidelines​. Districts who used indirect rate for “distorting expenditures” such as capital projects in fiscal year 2022-2023 need to work with the state to reallocate those funds.​

​What planning documentation do districts need to maintain fo​​​r their ESSER III funds?

ODE has provided districts with an ESSER Integrated Planning Tool (IPT) in order for districts to budget for ESSER III activities, including the activities related to addressing Unfinished Learning. Districts should update their IPT and send updated versions to ODE, as well as post the most recent version to their district’s website. The current IPT form can be found in the District Supplemental Plans section of ODE’s ESSER III website​.

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. 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: ​

​Why is ODE monitoring school districts?

Federal Pandemic Relief funds (totally $1.7 billion) are significant public investments, and both USED and Oregon’s Secretary of State (SOS) expects ODE to monitor the use of the funds to ensure that districts are utilizing the ESSER funds in accordance with federal and state regulations.
ODE will monitor districts to ensure:
  • Districts are complying with LEA Assurances for the ARP ESSER Fund; and
  • ODE learns from districts regarding their successes and challenges associated with the implementation of programs, activities and projects funding through ESSER resources;
Desk monitoring will be the primary method used by ODE in the monitoring of districts. These desk audits will occur twice each school year, in the fall and in the spring. Following desk monitoring, a small number of districts may be selected for on-site monitoring. Districts are selected using a risk based monitoring tool​.

What are the monitoring standards and procedures?

The ODE ESSER team identified a subset of the ESSER program requirements that districts must comply with to accept and use federal funds. This subset was identified based upon risks at the district and state level.

The subset of requirements is categorized (11 categories) by topic and includes a list of indicators that represent the statutory or regulatory requirements that may be monitored. ODE ESSER team has outlined criteria for demonstrating compliance and created a list of examples of evidence that districts may collect or maintain to demonstrate compliance with each requirement. The lists are not exhaustive and not all the listed documents have to be submitted for a district to demonstrate compliance. A district’s individual context will determine the amount and type of evidence to be submitted for each indicator. A district may choose to demonstrate compliance based on other processes or documents that pertain to the individual district and are not listed in the examples of evidence. It is up to the district to determine what evidence to submit that would best demonstrate evidence of compliance. The monitoring team will work with districts to determine what to submit. To access the monitoring standards and procedures please click here.

To learn more about ODE's ESSER monitoring standards and procedures, you can access the monitoring guidance document by clicking here​. 

What is the monitoring timeline?

For 2023 fall monitoring, districts​ were notified in late August with entrance meeting scheduled from September 14 to 29. After the entrance meeting, the district will have at least 30 days (about 4 and a half weeks) to provide documents and information that demonstrate compliance with the ESSER program requirements. After the ODE ESSER team reviews the submitted materials, an exit meeting will occur where premilnar compliance findings are shared. District found to be out of compliance will develop a plan designed to bring the district into compliance, and this plan will be monitored by the ODE ESSER team. Fall 2023 monitoring is designed to conclude before the end of the 2023 calendar year. Spring 2024 monitoring timelines will be determined at a later date.

What does "Unfinished Learning" mean? 

Unfinished learning is a term unique to Oregon and is being used in place of the federal term "Lost Instructional Time". The term references evidence-based interventions (high-dosage tutoring, summer school, extended day, etc.) that a school district implements to positively impact student outcomes. 

What does it mean for a program to be evidenced-based? 

 American Rescue Plan (ARP) ESSER (ESSER III) uses the same definition of evidenced-based as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Please review the Using Evidence to Strengthen Education Investments Non-Regulatory Guidance document for more information.

What are the expectations for districts regarding unfinished learning when using their ESSER funds?

​​​The U.S. Department of Education requires that at least 20% of a school district's ESSER III allocation be used for unfinished learning purposes. Please contact the ODE Pandemic Relief Team with any questions at​