Leaving on a jet plane? How to use federal funds for conference travel

Travel to conferences is an allowable use of ESEA and ESSER funds if a few requirements are met.

As state and local school districts plan their budgets for the coming school year, administrators may be looking for ways to expand professional development opportunities for school staff and officials.

While states and districts can use ESEA and ESSER funds to provide professional development activities “in-house,” travel to conferences could also be an allowable use of funds if a few requirements are met.

According to Frequently Asked Questions to Assist U.S. Department of Education Grantees To Appropriately Use Federal Funds for Conferences and Meetings, “federal grant funds may be used to pay for travel expenses of grantee employees, consultants, or experts to attend a meeting or conference” provided that attendance is necessary to meet the goals and objectives of a federal grant program and reasonable based on the state or district’s policies and procedures and state and local laws.

ED says grantees, including state and local educational agencies, should consider the following in determining whether the travel expense is necessary and reasonable:

  • Could the goals and objectives of the grant program be achieved without attending the meeting or conference?
  • Are there equally effective, but potentially less costly and time-consuming, alternatives?
  •  How does the cost of the conference and travel fees compare with similar events?
  •  Would attendance at the meeting or conference be seen as a good use of taxpayer dollars?

If the conference attendance and travel meet those standards, the Uniform Grants Guidance allows federal funds to be used to attend a conference, including registration, room, and travel. The guidance expressly prohibits the use of federal funds for alcohol and for entertainment costs.

For example, a school district interested in sending its chief technology officer to LRP’s Future of Education Technology® Conference in New Orleans in 2023 may be able to use ARP ESSER funds if it can show that the cost is reasonable and necessary for professional development on issues related to COVID-19 response and recovery, such as cybersecurity protocols and tools to protect district assets.

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The Uniform Grants Guidance says federal funds can also be used for other professional development expenses, provided they meet the necessary and reasonable standards, including:

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  • Hosting a conference, which could include paying speaker fees, facility rental fees, and transportation costs, unless restricted by the federal program.
  • Membership in business, technical, or professional organizations.
  • Online professional courses, including webinars and virtual conferences.
  • Subscription to a business, technical, or professional periodical.

This could also apply to online subscription services, such as Title1Admin®/ESEA Now and Special Ed Connection®. As always, consult your state and local spending rules and regulations, and be sure to maintain documentation to meet reporting requirements under the federal Education Department General Administrative Regulations and the Uniform Grants Guidance.

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

Charles Hendrix
Charles Hendrix
Charles Hendrix has been writing about federal K-12 education policy, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, since 2006, and has in-depth knowledge of Capitol Hill and the federal legislative process. He is a senior editor with LRP Publications and the author of What Do I Do When® The Answer Book on Title I – Fourth Edition. He lives in South Florida with his son and their trusted chiweenie, Junior.

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