- Spending patterns on Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds are beginning to emerge even though the numbers are not exactly precise, according to a Georgetown University Edunomics Lab webinar Tuesday. Overall, the available data reveals ESSER spending has been slow, especially with the 20% of funds designated to address learning loss, though districts have been more likely to spend from the 80% of ESSER funds marked for other purposes, said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab.
- The U.S. Department of Education is using state spending data to track the pace of ESSER spending, but state portals are still providing more updated data compared to the federal portal, Roza said. About $185.4 billion in ESSER funding has been awarded to state education agencies, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
- The Edunomics Lab proposes several opportunities to improve on ESSER data collection, including syncing both federal and state portals for more timely information. The research center also encourages districts to share their ESSER spending publicly on their websites and in school board meetings if they aren’t doing so already.
Pressure is mounting for accurate and updated ESSER spending data by districts nationwide, both from Congress and education and civil rights organizations. Reasons vary for wanting this data, Roza said during the webinar.
The public is eager for more data to become available in order to help advocate continuing federal funding, they can research to learn the impact this significant funding has had on students or they can ensure equitable distribution of funding across schools, Roza said.
There’s also a call for transparency and accountability around how schools spend the money, as expressed by some lawmakers during a Nov. 17 House Education and Labor Committee hearing.
Updated ESSER data would also help districts make continuous improvements so leaders can make corrections to future spending for better outcomes, Roza said.
Earlier this year, the Ed Department put out a request for comment on facilitating a more systemwide collection of ESSER data from districts and states. Some districts have said another data reporting requirement would be harmful to schools.
“Short staffed districts cannot afford to add more tasks to our already full plates,” read a comment submitted by the 3,371-student Enterprise Elementary School District in Redding, California. “If we are going to receive money as part of relief efforts, please help us by not requiring more work.”
A lot of questions remain regarding how ESSER dollars are spent based on available state data, Roza said.
The Edunomics Lab stated at the webinar the largest category for current recorded ESSER spending is on “other” or “systemic,” and some districts are using ESSER to backfill budget gaps and make one-time salary payments. There’s also some spending on technology, sanitization, facilities, pay increments, hiring of social-emotional learning staff and contracts for unknown purposes, Roza said.
Roza said the Ed Department’s proposed data collection would build on its earlier ESSER financial data collection, but she noted data quality was already poor. Data in this instance can be unreliable, particularly when funds were already being expended as data collection was released, she said