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School Matters: What is ESSER? Three Names, Three Different Levels of Federal Education Funding

Over the past year, you may have read or heard your local school district has received additional funding due to something called ESSER grants. In education, we are famous for our many acronyms. In this case, we must give full credit to our federal government for both the additional funding we expect to receive eventually and the new acronyms that come with it. ESSER stands for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant programs. Three separate pieces of legislation established the ESSER grant programs in 2020 and 2021. Each grant program has its own name. Well, actually, each has two names. 


ESSER 1 is also known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES ACT). This grant was established to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. These ESSER 1 funds were meant to reimburse school districts for extra expenses created while responding to the Coronavirus outbreak. Victoria ISD received approximately $2.9 million of ESSER 1 funds in 2020. Yet, Victoria ISD did not receive any additional funding as a result of the ESSER 1 grant. Instead, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) withheld the same approximately $2.9 million in state funding initially intended for VISD. The state budget benefited from ESSER 1. VISD and other school districts did not receive additional funding.


Fortunately for school districts, the story does not end here. The federal government’s second support package came in the form of ESSER 2, also known as the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA Act). ESSER 2 was established in December of 2020. Initially, Victoria ISD expected to receive $12,645,599 in ESSER 2 funds. We have received zero dollars at this time. The TEA recently shared that it will first reimburse itself for paying VISD for approximately 325 students that did not return to school during the pandemic. We expect to receive a significant level of funding from the ESSER 2 grant, though the latest reports tell us we will not be able to verify the actual level of funding until September of 2021. The guidelines for the use of ESSER 2 funds are still under review, and we are awaiting information on the application process. 


That leaves ESSER 3, also known as the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP Act). ESSER 3 represents the most significant amount of grant funding for school districts. In total, VISD expects to receive approximately $28.4 million in ESSER 3 funds. Currently, we have received zero dollars in ESSER 3 funding. We are now in the planning process to submit the application required by the TEA to receive ESSER 3 funding. This planning process has included a recent survey completed by a total of 491 community members. This survey information was reviewed by a 36 member ESSER 3 committee composed of students, teachers, staff, parents, and community members. The committee reviewed the information, including student unfinished learning and achievement data, identified staff needs, and air quality needs. Our staff is now using this information to draft an initial plan that will be shared with our Board of Trustees on July 22nd and submitted to TEA prior to the July 27th application deadline. The final plan will be available on our VISD website. 


We are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to receive this upcoming financial support from the ESSER 2 and ESSER 3 grant programs to address student learning needs, staff support needs, and improved air quality needs across our campuses. If you are interested in additional information about these three ESSER grant programs, you can find a wealth of information at this link: https://tea.texas.gov/finance-and-grants/grants/elementary-and-secondary-school-emergency-relief-esser-grant-programs


Dr. Greg Bonewald is the deputy superintendent of Victoria ISD