by Tanisha Pruitt Policy Matters Ohio

The pandemic took a toll on Americans from all walks of life, especially school children and educators. Throughout the pandemic, parents, children and teachers navigated school closures, hybrid learning and constantly evolving safety protocols. Coming out of the pandemic, Ohio’s schools are still recovering from  learning loss, struggling to  recruit and retain educators, scrambling to employ the proper number of  qualified support staff  and dealing with issues getting students to and from school due to the lack of buses and a reduction in the number of qualified,  bus drivers well-trained bus drivers to drive them. The good news is that the state still has available federal funds that can help, but only a year left to use the funds wisely so Ohio students and educators can get what they need to thrive in school.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) signed by President Biden in March 2021 dedicated $122 billion to support primary and secondary education, so schools could address learning loss, retool for new safety requirements and improve technology. Starting in 2021, districts across Ohio received disbursements of the state’s $4.4 billion in ARP funds for K-12 schools. The state currently has 8% of these funds remaining, which schools must spend by September 30th, 2024.

 The ARP funds were the third in a series third in a series of federal supports disbursed as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER):

ESSER I ($489,205,200): Funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which was enacted on March 20th, 2020. This funding was available March 13, 2020-September 30, 2022.

ESSER II ($1,991,251,095): Funded by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), which was enacted on December 27, 2020. This funding was available December 27, 2020-September 30, 2023.

ARP ESSER (ESSER III) ($4,475,243,513): Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was enacted on March 11, 2021. The funding is available until September 30, 2024.

Most districts have utilized all their ESSER I-II funds:

District Examples:

 Cleveland Heights-University heights school district:

Activities to address learning loss, e.g. summer and after school programming $1,437,133.37
Maintain operations and continuity of services $1,260,120.63
Provide mental health services and supports $787,651.21
Purchase educational technology $763,903.78
Implement public health protocols $46,587.42
  TOTAL TO DATE (6/17/2022): $4,295,396.41 

 CMSD:  The impact of ESSER funds has greatly impacted the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, according to Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon, who, along with two colleagues, shared how the district is investing ESSER funds at the district and school level to improve academic achievement.

Gordon said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, district-based and school-based educators made a pact when schools shut down for in-person learning that they were determined not to return to business as usual after the pandemic ended. As a result, they created a plan titled “Our Vision for Learning in a Post-Pandemic World” to help guide the district.

“We made a bet that if we invest in things such as out of school time and summer learning experiences that deepen and broaden the rich learning environment for young people in the context of rigorous academic content,” said Gordon, “we can move achievement, and we can use ESSER dollars to jump start this vision and then build a bridge to sustainability long term,” said Gordon.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) 507
Provides emergency relief grants to school districts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions include, but are not limited to, providing for coordination of preparedness and response efforts, training and professional development of staff, planning and coordination during long-term closure, and purchasing technology for students.


Cleveland Preparatory Academy:

The Academy will use ARP ESSER funds to implement the following:
1. Universal and correct wearing of masks – as directed by the CDC – all applicable individuals will be provided with the necessary PPE (purchased through ARP ESSER) if they do not have their own.
2. Physical distancing – ARP ESSER funds will be used to maximize all instructional spaces on campus both indoors and outdoors through reasonable construction projects.
3. Handwashing and respiratory etiquette – ARP ESSER funds will be used to update any facilities needed to increase student and staff access to handwashing facilities.
4. Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including improving ventilation – ARP ESSER funds will be used to update and maintain HVAC and ventilation systems to improve air quality and air flow in the school. Funds will also be used for increased cleaning around the school. The facilities will also
be updated with surfaces throughout the building and outside that enable effective cleaning of high touch areas.
2. How the LEA will use the funds it reserves under section 2001(e)(1) of the ARP Act to address the academic impact of lost instructional time through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive afterschool programs, or
extended school year.
A portion of the required 20% will be allocated to addressing the academic impact of lost instructional time through summer learning and enrichment as well as comprehensive after school programs that include both tutoring and enrichment. During the course of the school day, students will also receive
small group instruction through a combination of intervention teachers from Title I and ESSER funds.
3. How the LEA will spend its remaining ARP ESSER funds consistent with section 2001(e)(2) of the ARP Act; and The remaining ARP ESSER funds dedicated to academic intervention under the 20% set aside will be focused on intervention materials and staff. The Academy has purchased an online platform that includes iReady (diagnostic and data-driven instruction), Mastery Connect (short cycle assessments) as well as several intervention programs including ILX, BrainPOP, Raz-Kids and supplemental programs like

Here is the ODE Dashboard where Districts can track their ARP ESSER allocations and spending.

Districts now have the remaining ARP ESSER (ESSER III) funds, which were distributed in July of 2021, to use before the deadline. Funding allocations are distributed to districts based on enrollment and number of students in low-income families to ensure that districts with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students receive the funding that they need and deserve. This will benefit larger urban districts such as Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), which received $295 million in ARP ESSER funds. CMSD has $77,521,935 remaining funds to spend before the deadline next year.

The United States Department of Education makes clear that schools must use ARP funds to:

  • Open safely and remain open.
  • Dedicate 20% of funds to helping students recover academically and emotionally from losing a year in the classroom.
  • Prevent layoffs and hire any additional personnel to help get students back on track.
  • Provide enrichment learning, summer school and early education programs to maintain equity and aid in instructional loss during the pandemic.
  • Address physical and mental health needs of students.
  • Ensure a safe and healthy school environment, with windows that open and good air circulation, through renovations and improvements to schools’ HVAC systems.

What should districts use the remaining ARP ESSER funds for?

The large influx of federal K-12 aid can help Ohio school districts expand opportunities for all students, no matter where they live or how much money their families have. School districts serving higher percentages of students with low incomes will on average have received higher allocations of the funds. All Ohio school districts have a responsibility to use ARP funds to address the most urgent setbacks during the pandemic and give all students the support they need to flourish.

Districts around the state have already begun making plans for what they intended to use the remaining funds for ahead of the deadline:

Columbus City Schools: Columbus City Schools plans to use $1 million to provide mental health support for students and staff, including hiring more licensed mental health professionals that can address needs in their schools.

Middletown City School District: Middletown City school district plans to use $6 million for continued recovery to mitigate learning loss and provide extended education opportunities, such as hiring counselors and offering after school programs, to improve student academic outcomes.

Akron Public Schools: Akron public city school district plans to use $3 million to hire more educators as an effort to reduce class sizes and an additional $300,000 for substitute teachers to help mitigate teacher shortages in the district.

Additional Uses of ARP ESSER:

In addition to using federal relief aid for learning loss recovery and mental health supports, the Biden administration also plans to set aside $9 billion  in American Rescue Plan funding to address the teacher shortage nationwide. School districts in Ohio can add that funding to the $4.4 billion the state is already receiving in ARP dollars to address the current issues the state is navigating with recruiting and retaining qualified educators and support staff. Additionally, to address some of the transportation issues that districts have been facing in recent years, funds can be used to purchase more buses and hire more transportation staff.

Today, many of the same lawmakers who passed state budgets that erode resources from our public schools are seizing the opportunity to pit parents against teachers and school administrators – aiming to further undercut public education by subsidizing tuition for students to attend private schools. ARP dollars show how public funding can help get kids back on track in the classroom and provide the necessary support and services that they need. We can help keep schools safe and functional by monitoring ARP dollars coming into our districts and by encouraging administrators to use the funds to address staff shortages.

Most school districts post details of their ARP plans on their websites. Click here for highlights from Ohio’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief ARP Plans. Also, if you would like to track how much your district received in ARP ESSER funding, you can find that here.

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