3 strategies to maximize ESSER funds

Key points:

As the deadline for obligating Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds approaches on Sept. 30, school districts nationwide face the challenge of optimizing these resources to address pressing educational needs.

With families looking for and considering alternative forms of education and new schools for their children, it’s important to leverage remaining funds to effectively support digital learning initiatives that meet the needs of students, families, and educators.

Here are three ways school administrators can use remaining ESSER III funds to add or enhance a digital learning program in their school or district.

1 Educator training and professional development

By equipping teachers with the knowledge and skills to implement best practices in online learning, schools can cultivate a supportive and engaging environment that enhances student learning outcomes. In fact, according to the Institute of Education Sciences, teachers who receive substantial professional development can boost their students’ achievement by 21 percentile points.

I recommend using the remaining ESSER funds to provide your teachers and staff with high-quality professional development and training to ensure they feel confident teaching in the virtual environment. I recommend starting with a week of onboarding that includes an overview of your organization’s culture, how to build relationships and engage with students and parents online, and how to utilize the technology systems used to teach, monitor data, and communicate with families.

Then, be intentional when coaching teachers and set clear expectations on what they need to accomplish in the first 30, 60, and 90 days. The goal is to gradually release teachers into the work environment, so they have the time to ask questions and receive the feedback they need to thrive.

2 Hiring online teachers or school counselors

During discussions with school and district leaders nationwide, I’ve heard and seen the hurdles they face, including challenges in hiring teachers for specialized subjects such as world languages or electives, along with managing unforeseen teacher absences throughout the academic year.

To promptly address these staffing challenges, I propose school and district leaders leverage remaining ESSER III funds by forming partnerships with reputable online learning providers. These institutions offer accredited teachers and tailored support services, which can augment the efforts of your existing teaching staff, who are already making meaningful contributions to student learning and development.

3 Incorporating digital courses in schools or districts

By directly offering a variety of education options like digital learning, school and district leaders can cater to families’ desire for flexibility while ensuring continued financial support, because families will remain within their designated school zones rather than exploring alternative educational options like homeschooling or private schools.

One effective strategy to achieve this is by utilizing remaining ESSER III funds to integrate comprehensive and captivating digital courses into the curriculum.

One story that highlights the positive impact digital curriculum has on student learning outcomes is Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has enhanced its online school, the Union Virtual Learning Academy (UVLA).

Recognizing the need to adapt to the digital landscape, UVLA’s school leadership opted for a blended learning approach, combining online coursework with traditional classroom instruction. By the 2021-22 academic year, half of the district’s high school seniors had participated in blended learning classes, boasting an impressive 93 percent pass rate.

The incorporation of digital courses and virtual elements enabled UVLA to evolve alongside students’ digital experiences, fostering stronger connections between teachers and students. This evolution not only provided students with valuable learning opportunities but also prepared them for future academic and professional endeavors.

Start planning now

With the Sept. 30 deadline quickly approaching, school and district leaders need to start planning how to obligate remaining ESSER III funds as soon as possible. With a wide range of possibilities to spend the remaining funds to take digital learning to the next level, the fundamental message is clear. By allocating funds towards edtech and digital learning solutions, school administrators can prioritize their primary objective–the success of their students.

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