What Do We Know About How ESSER Money is Being Spent, And What Can We Learn From It?

Cover slide

These questions kicked off a webinar hosted by the National Comprehensive Center and presented by Marguerite Roza, Director of Edunomics Lab and David Deschryver, Senior Vice President of Whiteboard Advisors. 

While states are not required to track and report how their ESSER funds are spent publicly, Roza described a number of reasons to do so, including:        

  • Advocacy
  • Transparency
  • Continuous improvement
  • Equity
  • Research

Deschryver noted that most states are not yet collecting or reporting these data at all. While some SEAs have begun to gather and share spending data from their reimbursement processes, Edunomics found that current data collection and reporting methods may prevent education leaders from understanding the impact of ESSER funds.  

Reasons include a mismatch between the existing function and object codes in E-grants and the activities in district plans. When LEAs go to code their expenses, they are often choosing an “other” category, leaving many questions about how funds are spent. For example:

Washington State’s tracking of districts’ 80% COVID-19 response (based on Edunomics analysis)

  • Sanitization: 28%
  • Assist Disadv: 11%
  • Tech: 8%
  • HVAC: 6%
  • Mental Health: 1%
  • Summer/Aft: ,1%
  • Other: 49%

California's tracking of districts’ 20% learning loss (based on Edunomics analysis)

  • Summer: 13%
  • Extended Day: 6%
  • Extended Year: 2%
  • Afterschool: 1%
  • Other: 57%
  • Missing: 21%

Some districts are developing their own sites to communicate how they are spending ESSER funds. “This is partially for transparency, but also to signal to schools and staff what their investments are so people can pay attention to them and make sure they yield value,” said Roza. Districts to watch include: Miami-Dade County, Alachua County (FL), Philadelphia, and Indianapolis.

Deschryver noted that the purpose of public reporting is for the SEA or LEA to tell a thoughtful story to the public about how it is using ESSER funds. Presenters shared the concern that without better data, many questions will remain about what, if anything, young people gained as a result of ESSER funding.

Still, districts face challenges in progress monitoring, including lack of capacity at the district administration level as well as many open data and fiscal positions in SEAs across the country.

Recommendations for enhancing ESSER progress monitoring include:

  • Add more capacity at the district level to track/process ESSER spending
  • Build customized reports for each school
  • Establish cohorts of districts to examine data together
  • Set a monthly/quarterly data day
  • Involve principals
  • Post progress online