Home Education Schools may be looking for more time to spend ESSER funds on...

Schools may be looking for more time to spend ESSER funds on external contracts

Schools may be looking for more time to spend ESSER funds on external contracts

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that schools could seek more than a year to finish spending federal funds on aid in connection with the pandemic on contracts for construction, mental health, tutoring and other third-party services.

Districts will be able to request an additional 14 months after the previously agreed deadline to spend some of the $ 200 billion K-12 schools received in three rounds of federal pandemic aid, according to a schedule outlined in Letter May 13 the department sent last Friday to AASA, the Association of School Leaders.

A spokeswoman for the department stressed Tuesday in Education Week that the agency usually extends deadlines only for mitigating circumstances, such as supply chain problems that delay school construction projects that will be given priority. However, under existing rules, schools can apply for extensions for other types of contracts, a spokesman said.

The May 13 letter was specifically a response to school district advocates seeking more time to spend aid on infrastructure projects. Numerous media outlets and advocacy groups have reported since Friday that the extension could only apply to construction contracts and only to the third round of federal aid, known as ESSER III. In fact, counties can apply for extended costs for all contracts and for all three rounds of assistance, a department spokesman said Tuesday.

Schools must “commit” funds or direct them to specific goals by September of this year, starting with the first round of federal aid from COVID, known as ESSER I. The deadline for the second round of funding, ESSER II, is September 2023, and for ESSER III – September 2024.

Previously, schools assumed that they would have four months from these deadlines to “eliminate” or spend money. An explanation from the Department of Education of May 13 regarding this term refers to obscure federal rules that were ignored by most district leaders.

Areas should still oblige ESSER I funds by September 2022, ESSER II funds by September 2023 and ESSER III funds by September 2024. But if they hire a contractor before the deadline, they could get 18 months after those dates instead of four to pay the contractor – if the state education department gets a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on their behalf, AASA wrote on Friday to Roberto Rodriguez, assistant secretary for policy planning, evaluation and development.

Worries that the money will run out before the job is done

There were school district leaders and their advocacy groups beating the alarm for months that they may not be able to complete vital construction projects, such as repairing the roof or replacing the ventilation and air conditioning system, before the end of federal support that made them possible.

Rising cost of materials and a constant shortage of supplies led to many areas cutting back on investment or waiting to start until the market situation improved.

In January, a coalition of school and health advocacy groups sent a letter asking the department for more flexibility. With a response on Friday and a clarification on Tuesday, they got it – and more.

“The department understands the need for schools to address urgent and urgent projects, including school infrastructure projects designed to protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff during this pandemic,” Rodriguez said in a May 13 letter.

Representatives of the district were excited by the news.

“We need these children not to disappear from the 24-25 school year,” said Sasha Pudelsky, AASA’s director of advocacy. Districts “can make decisions about how they are going to transfer their dollars if they know they will be able to renew these professionals for more than two years.”

The department said it would later share details on how school districts could request an extension of costs and how it would handle applications from public education departments.

Lee Ann Wetzel, head of the Ridley district in suburban Philadelphia, may be among the applicants for the extension. She collaborated with a team of facilities on a $ 3 million project to quickly replace a failed ventilation and air conditioning system in the district’s 20-year high school building.

“The new building doesn’t hold up like a 100-year-old building in my area,” Wetzel said. One of the sections of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, in particular, “on its feet”.

The geothermal building has some sophisticated specifications over which construction crews will need time. Wetzel hopes the project could be completed by September 2024, but if that doesn’t happen, the “extension will give us a little relief that we should be good” to finish paying the contractor after the deadline, she said.

Some critics of schools ’efforts to recover from the pandemic may refuse to give schools more time. The department continues to urge districts to spend ESSER funds as soon as possible.

Schools have also signed contracts with third-party providers to spend ESSER funds on tutoring, mental health support, training materials, professional development, technology tools and even substitute teachers.

Pudelski believes that many counties that have good relationships with third-party mental health providers will seek to ensure that they continue to use ESSER dollars beyond the originally scheduled deadline.

The updated recommendations “could change the game very much,” she said.

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