It’s Easier Than You May Think to Use ESSER Money for Personnel

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It’s Easier Than You May Think to Use ESSER Money for Personnel

We are sharing a memo from our friends at CCSSO that is intended to clarify district confusion about the ability to use ESSER funding for employee compensation, including the requirements to abide by time distribution records or time and effort records. This memo provides examples of when these records are and are not required.

For example, if an employee spends part of its time coordinating COVID-19 testing and another part of its time fundraising, ESSER can only pay for the time spend on COVID-19 testing and could charge that time to ESSER funding. The LEA would need time distribution records to verify ESSER was only charged for the time spent on allowable activities. According to ED, however, such situations involving a combination of allowable and unallowable activities will be rare. Instead, most employees compensated with ESSER funds will work on activities that could all be charged to ESSER should the LEA choose to. When an employee works entirely on allowable ESSER activities – that is, when ESSER could pay for all of the activities an employee works on – SEAs and LEAs do not need to distinguish between activities and ED guidance states no time distribution records are required.

If superintendents were worried about the required paperwork associated with charging employee time to ESSER, we hope this memo, which was approved by USED, reassures you that it may not be as administratively challenging as you think.

New GAO Report Finds School Districts in Socially Vulnerable Communities Faced Heightened Challenges after Recent Natural Disasters

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New GAO Report Finds School Districts in Socially Vulnerable Communities Faced Heightened Challenges after Recent Natural Disasters

Today, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that found chronic underinvestment in school facilities has left schools vulnerable to natural disasters, prolonging closures and putting states on the hook for billions of dollars. According to the report, school districts serving high proportions of children and families who are low income, people of color, English learners or living with disabilities are the most impacted by natural disasters and often do not have sufficient resources to prepare facilities for disasters or repair facilities damaged by disasters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance program and the Department of Education's Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations program may provide assistance to lessen the financial burden and provide emotional, academic, financial and physical lifting to get schools back on track. However, the report also found that, due to deferred maintenance, many low-income school districts could lose out on that federal disaster recovery assistance, which can be partially withheld from districts to account for the state of facilities before a natural disaster. 

Read the highlights from the report here. The full report is available here.

A Note for Superintendents, From Secretary Cardona

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A Note for Superintendents, From Secretary Cardona

The following note was sent to superintendents following a call with Sec. Cardona on January 7.

 Dear Superintendents,

Thank you all for joining my conversation with the Surgeon General, CDC, and White House. An hour out of your day, on the first week back after break, is asking a lot and is not lost on me. I continue to be grateful for your commitment to solving these challenging issues and keeping students and staff safe – and hopefully in the classroom in-person.

We know needs and concerns are changing rapidly, and everyone is working tirelessly to respond, balancing what we’ve learned, the latest science, students’ academic needs, and everyone’s mental health and safety concerns.

The Department will continue to host conversations with you and your colleagues. As was mentioned on the call, we’re beginning virtual regional roundtables shortly and want to ensure there is always an open line of communication. We continue to hear about the impacts of educators and other school staff shortages due to COVID-19. We are committed to supporting you in addressing these shortages and urge you to use resources from the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) to ensure that students have access to the teachers and other critical staff they need to support their success during this critical period.

Since we spoke, Biden-Harris Administration announced new actions to increase COVID-19 testing in schools by:

  • Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools;
  • Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month;
  • Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites;
  • Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds; and
  • New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools

In the days since, the Administration has released a number of additional resources for schools seeking COVID-19 tests, and I wanted to make sure they were easily at your fingertips:

If I could make just one ask of everyone, it’d be to host a vaccination clinic for students, staff, and families (first shots and boosters!) in January. We know the vaccine is safe and effective and our best defense against COVID. Additionally, following the CDC’s guidance, those who are vaccinated do not need to participate in Test to Stay if a close contact tests positive. Instead, if they’re asymptomatic, students and staff can safely remain masked in school in-person. This eases the testing burden and allows everyone to safely remain in school.

Thank you for everything you’re doing. It’s not easy, but your dedication is inspiring.