ED releases FAQ on allowable uses for spending ESSER, GEER funds

The guidance addresses the use of ESSER and GEER funds for school construction and renovation in response to COVID-19, as well as health services such as vaccinations for students and staff.
By: | May 26, 2021

The U.S. Education Department released its long-awaited FAQ on allowably using funds allocated through ESSER and GEER on May 26, providing answers to questions state and local educational agencies had on numerous issues, including construction and renovation, as well as providing vaccinations to students and staff.

“The department encourages states and LEAs to use the funds described in this document to safely reopen schools, maximize in-person instructional time for all students, and provide opportunities to address the impacts of lost instructional time resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” ED officials wrote.

“When making decisions about how to use ESSER and GEER funds, states and LEAs are encouraged to take into consideration how the funds can be used to address inequities, including focusing supports and services on students from low-income families, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, children and youth in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

The 61-page guidance document covers ESSER I and GEER I funds authorized by the CARES Act, ESSER II and GEER II funds authorized by the CRRSA Act, and ARP ESSER funds authorized by the ARP Act. ED notes that while the allowable uses of funds list is not identical in the authorizing acts, “any of the ESSER funds (ESSER I, ESSER II, or ARP ESSER) may be used to support all of the allowable uses of funds listed in any of the ESSER programs.”

In general, ED says SEAs and LEAs should answer three questions when determining how to spend ESSER or GEER funds:

  1. Does the use of funds prevent, prepare for, or respond to COVID-19, including meeting social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students?
  2. Is it an allowable use of ESSER or GEER funds as defined by CARES, CRRSA, or ARP?
  3. Does the use of funds meet the necessary and reasonable standard set by the Uniform Grants Guidance at 2 CFR Part 200?

Following are some allowable uses of ESSER and GEER funds as outlined in the FAQ.

School construction and renovation

ED says school construction and renovation are allowable activities for ESSER and GEER funds because ESEA Title VII, Impact Aid, authorizes construction activities that include “remodeling, alterations, renovations, and repair, under which many activities related to COVID-19 would likely fall,” and activities authorized by the ESEA are allowable uses of ESSER and GEER funds.

For example, renovations or replacement of a school’s HVAC system to improve ventilation, installation of air filtration systems, or the removal of carpeted flooring to replace it with tile, which is more easily cleaned and disinfected, could all be allowable uses of funds, ED said.

However, ED “discourages” the use of ESSER and GEER for new construction, as it may “limit an LEA’s ability to support other essential needs and initiatives.” The department also warns LEAs to be aware of the time constraints involved in allocating and spending ESSER and GEER funds, as construction or remodeling projects may not be completed during the funding window.

LEAs that invest ESSER or GEER funding in construction or renovation activities must be able to support the decision by providing information about how each individual cost prepares for or responds to COVID-19, how it is allowable, and how it is necessary and reasonable.

LEAs engaging in construction or renovation must also follow additional federal requirements that include prior written approval by a governor or SEA, Uniform Grants Guidance requirements, Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements for projects over $2,000, and ED regulations for construction located at 34 CFR 75.600 through 34 CFR 75.618 and 34 CFR 76.600.

Grantees that undertake construction or renovation projects must follow prevailing federal, state, and local building codes and policies.

Vaccinations and testing

ED says ESSER and GEER funds may be used to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to teachers, staff, and eligible students in an LEA because the implementation of public health protocols, including those aligned with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for safe school reopening and operation, is an allowable use of funds.

ED also suggests LEAs can use funds to support vaccination outreach efforts, which could include “activities to create awareness and build confidence, facilitate clinics, and provide incentives such as paid time off for staff to get vaccinated.”

ESSER and GEER funds can also be used for COVID-19 testing for students and staff, but the FAQ notes that a separate $10 billion fund for such services was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to state health departments who are coordinating with local health departments to provide testing in schools.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.