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With calendars turning to 2024, education leaders are facing down an impending ESSER funds deadline for earmarking billions of dollars in education grants.
To address the urgent needs of schools, the federal government created the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Included in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) enacted in March 2020, ESSER funds have since provided almost $200 billion to help schools around the U.S. recover from pandemic-related losses.
While many education leaders understand the importance of the ESSER funds, they may not realize that the deadlines to apply for ESSER funds are fast approaching in 2024.
As the deadline to utilize these funds approaches, it is crucial for educators to understand how these funds can be used to benefit their communities. Here are five ways that schools can use their ESSER funds.
Support Mental Health
It’s no secret that the mental health of American children is experiencing a crisis. In 2021, CDC data confirmed that a record number of teens were struggling with their mental health with 60 percent country-wide having depression. In addition, the struggles were more severe, with almost one-third of depressed teens considering suicide.
Unsurprisingly, the mental health of their student body ranks as the number one health and safety stressor for superintendents. EAB’s recent 2023 Voice of the Superintendent Survey revealed a disturbing trend as a staggering 92 percent of superintendents expressed concerns that the student mental health crisis is getting worse.
And perhaps the scariest of all findings to come from this year’s survey, only 53 percent of superintendents believe their district has the funding or staffing to adequately deal with the problem.
Recognizing the importance of supporting students' mental health, ESSER funds can be directed towards initiatives that prioritize supporting mental health. This may include:
Hiring additional counselors and mental health professionals
Support programs including mindfulness, nutrition, and study groups
Training teachers and staff to better handle mental health issues
Telehealth services including behavioral health support
Alleviate Staffing Challenges
ESSER funds can also be used to help alleviate various staffing challenges such as helping pay teacher salaries, hiring and training new staff, and giving raises to boost teacher morale.
A 2022 Gallup Poll revealed that almost half of all K-12 educators report being “always or very often” burned out. In addition, 73 percent of teachers report feeling underappreciated. An astounding 97 percent of superintendents ranked staffing shortages and low staff morale as a major concern, coming in at number two overall only behind the student mental health crisis.
Over the last few years, ESSER funds have been allocated to
Hire additional staff
Hire new teachers and substitutes
Pay staff and teacher salaries
Improve Physical Health
Parallel to their mental health, research from the CDC shows that the physical health of the average student is also declining. Schools can use their ESSER funds to implement initiatives that improve the physical health of their school communities such as
Telehealth programs to enhance healthcare
Bolster physical and health education
Clean and disinfect school grounds including the HVAC system
Purchase PPE including gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, tissues and more
Designed for schools, Kokomo24/7® is a proven and trusted leader in school telehealth care. Our software creates efficient solutions to complex health and safety challenges, enabling students to enhance their own 24/7 health care and improve the overall physical health of the learning environment. Ask us why the second largest school district in the country, LAUSD, trusts us to keep their students healthy with telehealth.
Advance Learning Technology
As technology continues to evolve and enhance the learning of students around the world, it’s important for school leaders to know that ESSER funds, along with most other education funding, can be channeled toward technology and connectivity initiatives including purchasing new learning technology tools and programs.
New device acquisition
Enhance connectivity and Wi-Fi
Upgrade learning tools and digital learning programs
Moreover, professional development programs funded by ESSER and most other education grants can equip teachers and staff with the skills needed to integrate technology effectively into the curriculum. By providing these tools, schools empower students to engage with digital content, collaborate with peers, access educational resources from virtually anywhere, and ensure that teachers are properly trained to use the technology.
Upgrade School Safety
Beyond health-related measures, ESSER funds can also be used to enhance general security measures within schools. This might involve upgrading security systems or purchasing safety software. By investing in these security enhancements, schools can bolster their ability to prevent and respond to potential security threats, ensuring the safety of everyone on campus.
Schools can purchase some of the following safety enhancements using their ESSER funds:
Upgrade security systems like surveillance cameras or metal detectors
Train staff to better respond to emergencies
Hire school resource officer(s)
Purchase safety software including anonymous reporting tip lines, panic buttons, visitor management, and incident management tools
Kokomo24/7® exists to keep schools safe. Large and small schools alike such as Chicago Public Schools trust Kokomo to keep their students healthy and their schools safe. Since 2018, Kokomo has become a proven leader in the education health and safety sector, and we pride ourselves on highly customizable, cost-effective solutions.
Kokomo24/7® is a leader in compliance and risk management solutions for all things health and safety. Kokomo shares your passion for school safety and has a significant track record across Fortune 1000 companies as well as public-sector clients and schools like the Los Angeles Unified School District and Chicago Public Schools. Ask us about the time we helped host the Oscars!