K12 school districts are nearing the final stages of finalizing their American Rescue Plan spending, and the U.S. Department of Education hopes to alleviate some of the pressure by allowing requests for a 14-month extension, the Department acknowledged in a letter on Monday.
School districts must commit to spending their ARP funds by Sept. 30, 2024, which economists have labeled time and time again as “the bloodletting” as they anticipate major budget slashes, including significant staffing reductions as schools used these funds to bolster their workforce amid employee shortages.
This extension may prove beneficial for those who have yet to commit to spending the rest of their federal dollars, which is the case for most states. According to an analysis by FutureEd, states have spent on average 59.6% of their COVID relief funds. Some have spent less than 40%, including Wisconsin, which has only allocated 37.8%, the data suggests.
The Department’s guidance notes that districts submitting extension requests must make a case for how an extension would help support their mission to use such funds to tackle student academics and learning recovery. School systems will be required to submit requests through their state education agencies.
“The Department’s liquidation extension process for ARP ESSER and EANS funds, like the procedures that have been utilized by States for CARES and CRRSA funds, is designed to ensure that every possible resource is available to continue our collective work to address the pandemic’s impacts on our schools and students, in particular the urgent need to accelerate student learning,” the letter reads.
Once a request is approved, the affected schools will be allowed to spend their ARP funds 14 months beyond the Jan. 28, 2025 deadline.
Several education organizations, including The School Superintendents Association (AASA), applauded the Department’s decision to provide school systems with the flexibility to carefully plan out the last of their ARP spending. However, they voiced several concerns about how the process will play out over the coming months.
For instance, the sheer number of requests states will soon receive from their school districts may prove burdensome for states and the Education Department to review.
“For many states, this will be unmanageable for ARP ESSER,” AASA wrote. “Given the size of ARP ESSER, there are potentially thousands of transactions that would benefit from liquidation extensions.”
“[I]t would be helpful if ED would consider broader extension options as this puts a tremendous burden on both SEAs and LEAs in submitting requests,” they add.
They also worry that certain student support initiatives, including mental health resources and services, will not fit the criteria outlined by the Department. As mentioned previously, districts must prove an extension would help them continue the acceleration of academic success. Thus, posing the question, how do student mental health services factor into this equation?
“To me, that meant that continued mental health supports and services or any non-academic extensions would not be applicable for liquidation extensions nor would delays pertaining to the construction of new or improved facilities,” AASA wrote.
Advice for leaders
While your district may be eligible for an extension, it’s important to understand that how you spend your remaining funds may have a profound impact on long-term sustainability in some areas.
With this in mind, superintendents and administrators should take advantage of the variety of resources available to ensure your federal funds are used as efficiently as possible.
Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab has several blogs and webinars readily available to those wanting to get a better understanding of the K12 financial landscape. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- ESSER Expenditure Dashboard
- Resources for District Leaders
- 30-Minute Webinar Series
- 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Spending ESSER $s