The COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of education, and the government responded with new funding designed to help address educational issues arising from the pandemic. Schools nationwide can take advantage of funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, also known as ESSER, which was designated to support K-12 schools navigating pandemic-related challenges. The tremendous funding opportunity comes with use-it-or-lose-it deadlines, so you need to determine how to use the funds and submit your application soon.
Making an Impact
ESSER has marked a historic investment in education, contributing $189.5 billion. In some districts, the allocations add up to as much as a quarter to half of their annual budgets. You can use the funds for a wide range of opportunities, including career and technical programs such as shop and skilled trade programs.
The funding can create a lasting impact on students, especially those who may have been underserved in the past. The Department of Education has said spending should provide equitable opportunities to students, and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called on education stakeholders to unravel barriers to high-quality education for several underserved student populations.
Investing in Digital Learning and Technology
Equity in education ensures each student receives the resources needed to learn, and COVID-19 highlighted the many ways students can learn. More importantly, research suggests that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information and take less time. As part of ESSER, you can use funds to purchase online learning tools, digital resources and technology, such as computers and tablets, to access digital learning opportunities.
Digital learning tools, such as augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) technologies, are opening doors for students to learn and teachers to instruct in a more immersive, technological environment. For example, you can use interactive online simulations and VR to reinforce classroom lessons, and you can also assign them as homework to better prepare students for upcoming classes and labs. For students learning trades careers, online simulations can provide a safe place for them to practice before working on live equipment. Digital learning tools also provide resources to help you match students with their ideal learning styles and create customized learning experiences.
Schools that provide career and technical education (CTE) are especially important in creating equitable pathways and giving students resources to build a long-term career. It is well known that there is a skilled labor shortage within the U.S. and more jobs are being created every day. Labor market data show a clear and steady need for more trades workers over the next decade, with 1.3 million job openings annually through 2028.
Online learning can help supplement your school’s CTE programs and provide additional resources to keep students engaged. Immersive VR simulations, for instance, can be incorporated into your existing CTE curriculum, giving students the ability to immediately apply their lessons in a hands-on format without requiring them to travel to a lab. Simulations can also be used to provide students with additional practice time to master skills learned in the classroom.
Now that you know how to use these funds, you may be wondering how to access them. The government has signed three ESSER packages—ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER III—and local educational agencies have to apply for funds from state educational agencies. The program provides school districts considerable flexibility in determining how best to use ESSER funds, but each round has use-it-or-lose-it deadlines. The obligation period—when schools have to commit to how they will spend the money—for ESSER I has already passed. However, ESSER II funds can be obligated until Sept. 30, 2023, while ESSER III funds have until Sept. 30, 2024.
The funds must be spent within 120 calendar days after those dates. The U.S. Department of Education is allowing an 18-month spending extension for districts for each of the ESSER allocations based on “specific facts and circumstances.”
Partnering with Interplay Learning
Interplay Learning’s resources align with ESSER funding. You can use our 300+ hours of online expert-led instruction and hands-on simulations to supplement your existing curriculum and help students learn skilled trades such as HVAC, Plumbing, and Electrical. Your students can learn risk-free and get unlimited practice in a virtual lab to help them develop the critical thinking and troubleshooting skills they need to begin careers post-graduation. By leveraging our immersive learning platform, you can give students hands-on learning from any device or in virtual reality to create a more impactful learning experience.