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In response to the coronavirus and increasing economic insecurity around the country, the U.S. federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020. The CARES Act includes $13 billion for elementary and secondary schools as well as another $3 billion for state governors to support schools in responding to COVID-19.

CARES Act Details—ESSER and GEER

Program Amount Funding Availability
ESSER—Minimum Grants to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) $11.9B SEAs have already received their funds and started their distribution to LEAs. LEAs must obligate funds by September 30, 2022.
ESSER—Maximum State Education Agency (SEA) Reserve $1.3B  
GEER—Total Available to State Governor $2.9B Governors have received their state allotments. Governors must obligate their funds by September 30, 2022.

What are allowable uses of CARES Act ESSER funds?

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds are generally unrestricted for use by LEAs. Anything schools use their regular federal funding for is allowable under ESSER, and generally anything necessary to help respond and recover from the coronavirus is allowable.

The ESSER program does include some specific allowable uses of the funding, though, related to technology use:

ESSER allowable uses related to technology D2L Brightspace Solution
Planning for and coordinating during long-term closures, including how to provide technology for online learning to all students Set up flexible learning options across your district based on student and community needs—blended, hybrid, or fully virtual. Seamlessly share messages to communicate about class activities, or connect face-to-face with students over video, all from right inside the Brightspace platform.
Providing educational technology for all students that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors
Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months

What is the GEER fund?

Funding provided to governors under the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund is separate from ESSER and its 10% allowable state set-aside. The GEER funds are generally unrestricted and may be used to support K–12 schools and institutions of higher education impacted by the coronavirus.

The CARES Act only requires that GEER spending fall into one of three categories:

  1. Emergency support to LEAs most significantly impacted by the coronavirus to continue to provide educational services to their students and to support the ongoing functionality of the local educational agency,
  2. Emergency support to institutions of higher education serving students within the state that have been most significantly impacted by the coronavirus to continue to provide educational services and support the ongoing functionality of the institution, and
  3. Support to any institution of higher education, LEA, or other education-related entity within the state that the governor deems essential for carrying out emergency educational services for students.

Other CARES Act provisions

Non-public Schools Maintenance of Effort
Under the CARES Act, districts are required to use a portion of their funds received under ESSER to “provide equitable services” to students and teachers in non-public schools. For more detailed information, see the U.S. Department of Education’s FAQ on Equitable Services. States that accept ESSER or GEER funding are required to maintain their state-level funding support for K–12 schools and public higher education institutions at the average levels from the previous three fiscal years for at least fiscal years 2020 and 2021.