ESSER Expenditure Deadline Looms Large Over Local Schools

The deadline for spending $5.57 billion of federal money sent to Michigan school districts amid the pandemic looms large in many places that still lag behind the pace needed to allocate those dollars in time.

The funding came in the form of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program during the COVID-19 pandemic’s height, largely under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

This crucial funding has helped many local districts provide support for students impacted both academically and emotionally from the pandemic. But ever since the program’s inception, the expenditure deadline has cast a long shadow as a reminder that this money will eventually run out.

As the deadline inches closer, many schools are nobly attempting to stretch every dollar. But in doing so, many are failing to keep spending apace with the impending deadline.

This lag in spending is not for lack of need, as many schools throughout Michigan have used this funding for important work like expanding mental health services, implementing tutoring programs, improving infrastructure and right-sizing educator pay.

Of the $5.57 billion initially divided amongst Michigan schools, $2.41 billion is currently left. Of that, $273 million has a deadline of September 2023, while the remaining must be spent by September 2024.

MEA Labor Economist Dr. Tanner Delpier points out that while Michigan is 70% of the way through the ESSER expenditure period, only 56% of the money has been used.

“ESSER is use it or lose it,” Delpier warns. “If it’s not spent by the deadline, it disappears.”

Delpier emphasized that ESSER was “created to buttress public education during a public health crisis,” meaning it was intended to be spent immediately to support students and staff “in a time of fast change and great uncertainty in every aspect of life.”

By lagging behind in expenditure, many districts are taking an unnecessary risk of being forced to spend large sums hastily before the clock runs out. Or worse, leaving a portion of these desperately-needed resources unused, which would be the ultimate disservice to our students.

To see how much money your school district has left, visit the Michigan Department of Education COVID-19 Spend Dashboard.

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