Did you know that the federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) stimulus funds for public K-12 schools are running out soon? The deadline for spending down the funds is September 30, 2024.

Though this day was bound to come, many districts still face the challenge of how to continue to serve students well with fewer funds and persistent academic needs as a result of the pandemic. School leaders will have to make tough decisions about what programs to keep and which programs to cut. Given this impending fiscal cliff, it is time for advocates to redirect their energy to what can be done in the wake of decreased revenue.

That’s why Ed Trust has produced an ESSER sustainability brief, which emphasizes the need for districts to assess, improve, and maintain their ESSER efforts across three decision areas:

  • Equitable resource allocation
  • Demonstrated effectiveness
  • Strategic alignment to student needs

Oftentimes, advocates know the right research-based practice for which to push, but are unable to determine what specific district plans need to change to shift current practices to more equitable ones. To help ensure districts are able to do this well, the Alliance for Resource Equity, a partnership between Ed Trust and Education Resource Strategies, has developed a series of toolkits. These tools help advocates dig into the root cause of why the most impactful work might be stalled or nonexistent and recommendations to lead districts into a more equitable planning cycle.

In this instance, the guidebook on school funding for district- and school-level action planning provides multiple root causes to consider when asking the question:

Does the funding system distribute adequate funding based on student needs and enable flexible use of funds in ways that are clearly understood?

To understand if district investments fit into its overall strategy for addressing student needs (strategic alignment to student needs), look into strategic spending on page 12 of the school funding guidebook. Some potential actions to investigate and suggest as district advocates include:

  • Gathering data to understand overall and per-pupil spending
  • Seeking input from multiple perspectives
  • Making deliberate tradeoffs to free up funds for schools and students

To understand if district investments are achieving their stated goals (demonstrated effectiveness), the root cause may be transparency, which is discussed on page 13 of the school funding guidebook. Some potential actions to investigate an suggest as district advocates include:

  • Broadening the public understanding of the funding formula
  • Developing spending reports to enable comparisons
  • Monitoring the funding process for consistency

To understand if district investments are equitably addressing the unique needs of students in the district (equitable resource allocation), differentiation based on student need is referenced on page 14 of the school funding guidebook. Some potential actions to investigate and suggest as district advocates include:

  • Adopting a new funding model for staff allocation
  • Re-evaluating the weights used to differentiate funding
  • Monitoring the design decisions of school-level funding

Starting with this school funding guidebook, action steps for advocates become less opaque. Advocates can use the key questions posited as starting points to better collect information and collaborate with district and school leaders beyond the ESSER fiscal cliff. Over the coming months, Ed Trust will be disseminating additional resources to highlight districts that have used these tools as well as additional strategies for advocating for more equitable and additional funding.

Meanwhile, be sure to check out our explainer video about the three key questions advocates and families should be asking their district leaders on how they plan to budget before and after ESSER funds run out.