ESSER endgame: What 7 districts plan to fund and what leaders might cut

Leaders are preparing to cut new staff hired to beef up instruction and scrambling to find the funding to sustain programs.

Maintaining expanded tutoring programs and summer learning for at least one more year is how leaders of Fairfax County Public Schools plan to spend the last round of ESSER III relief funding. The September 2024 deadline, of course, also means leaders may have to make tough decisions to cut programs that had been added to tackle unfinished learning, chronic absenteeism, a surge in behavioral problems and other challenges of the pandemic.

In some cases, superintendents and their teams are already cutting new staff positions that were added over the past two years to beef up instruction. Other administrators are scrambling to find the funding to sustain staff and programs that have helped students bounce back in the classroom, reversed attendance declines and amplified the impact of SEL.

For example, Dayton Public Schools in Ohio spent $2.4 million in March alone on “double teachers,” and other positions. There are now two teachers in every first- through third-grade classroom, with one specializing in math and the other in literacy. The model reduces class sizes and allows for more one-on-one instruction.

With the deadline looming at the end of the next fiscal year, District Administration is taking a look at how a handful of districts intend to use the rest of their ESSER III funds to keep students and staff on the path toward academic and social-emotional recovery. Some districts are already cutting positions and programs that will have to be cut when the relief program ends.

Extending essential ESSER III programs

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia is using its final round of ESSER to support ongoing programs, including extending contracts for special education interventionists that cost the district nearly $20 million in fiscal year 2023. Administrators will also continue to fund school-based wellness staff, an SEL coordinator and two SEL specialists, and general academic interventions and academic tutors for students districtwide.

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The D.C.-area district reports that in only one year, about 40% of students with the greatest academic needs made significant improvement while receiving frequent high-impact tutoring in small groups. Fairfax County in 2023 will spend another $6.7 million on its summer learning programs, which more than 30,000 students have participated in the last two years.

In the Florida panhandle, leaders in the Escambia County School District are determined to maintain some programs that have become indispensable since being launched with ESSER funding. One of those is the navigator program, in which a new team of district employees has been helping families access food, clothing and healthcare assistance, the Pensacola News Journal reported. At the bare minimum, the district would like to maintain the program in its most high-needs schools, the newspaper said.

Lake Stevens School District, also in Washington, received $8.4 million from the three rounds of ESSER. In the final round of ESSER III, administrators have earmarked $1.08 million to:

  • Summer enrichment programs for student achievement
  • Extended day academic interventions for students
  • Special education recovery services to proactively address the lack of appropriate progress on IEP goals
  • Professional learning and instructional support for our staff
  • English language arts and math curriculum
  • Strengthening school day interventions to support students

And Agawam Public Schools in Massachusetts is shifting expenses from its mostly depleted ESSER package to its permanent budget to maintain some of the new positions it created during COVID, The Reminder reported.

Where leaders are making cuts

Greenville Public Schools in Michigan has used up the $8.5 million it received in ESSER funding, spending some of the money on CTE staff and paraprofessionals to meet the most pressing student needs in the wake of the pandemic. The district is now having to lay off about 20 staff members, Superintendent Wayne Roedel told his school board this week, according to The Daily News. 

“We used the federal dollars that come through ESSER in a phenomenal way,” Rodel was quoted as telling the school board. “We did exactly what those dollars were given to us for. We hired people to close learning gaps, we’ve run incredibly robust summer programs the last couple of summers and we’ve hired people to address social-emotional issues that students had coming out of COVID.”

Several ESSER-supported expenses would be cut in the Olympia School District’s 2023-24 spending proposal. Administrators in the Washington district intend to eliminate central office positions in teaching and learning and finance as well as an ESSER-related health services director. The district also plans to cut 12 elementary school instructional coaching positions, 12 family liaison positions and a CTE instructional coach.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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