The American Rescue Plan: Encouraging Transformation, Impact, and Longevity

ESSER Funds: Today, Tomorrow, and the Long-Term Impact on Learning edLeader Panel recording link


Blog post by Michele Israel based on this edLeader Panel

Schools and districts can continue to benefit from the federal government’s stimulus dollars through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) of 2021, the third iteration of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). These monies could drive the design of transformational initiatives with the potential for long-term impact.

Education experts highlighted how the ARP works in a recent edLeader Panel, sponsored by NetRef. While funds can go to various efforts in targeted areas, there will be a greater focus on school and district investments that are evidence based, sustainable, and data driven to demonstrate positive outcomes.

An ARP Logistics Primer

There are some need-to-know facts about ARP funds that districts and schools should understand before they apply:

  • Enacted in March 2021, the ARP fund provided $123 billion to state education agencies (SEA) and local education agencies (LEA). Homeless education received $800 million, leaving $122 billion distributed via formula to SEAs and LEAs (90% funneled to districts, with the states keeping 10%).
  • In addition, $3 billion went to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The pandemic exacerbated students with special needs’ challenges, which require targeted intervention.
  • Like the first two rounds of ESSER, states and districts receive funds based on their Title I proportionate share. For example, if Texas gets 10% of Title I dollars, it will get 10% of available ESSER dollars. Not all districts have poverty levels to qualify for Title I and thus will not receive ARP funds. Those with high poverty will get a higher proportionate share of Title I monies; those with lower poverty could receive funds at their Title 1 share or possibly less.
  • The average Title I share is about $2,500 per pupil. Add in the CRRSAA and CARES Act funds to bring that closer to $4,000 per pupil. In essence, the average district is likely to see a 20% boost in funding from ARP.
  • Maintenance of effort (or spending on education) is an essential element of the ARP. Even more critical is maintenance of equity, a new concept in federal law. Suppose there are budget cuts in a state. High-poverty districts or districts serving a high percentage of low-income students cannot see budget cuts disproportionately higher than those in higher-income districts. The same goes for high-poverty schools at the district level. The goal is to protect marginalized students by ensuring resource equity so that high-needs schools are on a level playing field.
  • September 30, 2024 is the ARP obligation deadline. A plan must be in place by then, with funds to be liquidated by January 2025.

What the Dollars Support

Like ESSER I and II, ARP funds are somewhat flexible. They can go to health and safety, learning loss, students’ socio-emotional well-being (especially post-pandemic), educational equity, and students with special needs.

At the state level, monies are set aside for evidence-based programming or interventions for learning loss, summer learning, and after school. (At the district level, at least 20% of the funds must go to learning loss.) With ARP funds, these interventions must be evidence based—grounded in generalized research to support a theory of action.

And yes, ARP dollars can go to other authorized activities allowed in the CARES Act and ESSER I. School renovation, safety upgrades to infrastructure, establishing healthier in-person learning environments, expanded tech capabilities, special education, assessment and accountability systems, parent and family engagement—all fundable but must be evidence based.

To get a sense of where the monies are going, districts and schools can visit the National Conference of State Legislatures, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Demonstrating Impact

Districts and schools should manage and track ARP funds in a thoughtful and timely way to demonstrate the impact (preferably long lasting) on learning. The funds are meant to make a difference with transformational initiatives that align with specific plans and budgets and continue past 2025.

Districts and schools must track, report, and communicate actionable program data to demonstrate impact and the constructive use of funds. The federal government has evaluation plans for spending at the state and LEA levels: Was 20% at the district level spent on learning loss? Did spending tie back to pandemic-related needs? Did the state spend at least 1% on summer or after school?

Other reporting categories will look at expenditures and their alignment to program plans and whether they address broader needs and goals in identified areas.

Schools and districts will need to track and monitor data to ensure they get a good return on investment (ROI). In addition, they must understand the impact of the services, tools, programs, apps, etc. they purchase to make sure they advance students’ education and support teachers’ professional learning and growth.

Tracking data is complex and time-consuming. Instead, schools and districts might consider using programs such as NetRef to monitor investments and funding allocations while gauging their impact. NetRef, for example, produces ROI reports for analysis of monies spent and what that looks like in terms of product usage (actual effective cost per user, for example) and learning value.

The ARP moves schools and districts beyond using immediate fixes and buying lots of gadgets and programs to see “what sticks.” These funds call for strategic and creative thinking that moves education to excellence over the long term. In this case, maybe the “Rescue” in “American Rescue Plan” should be “Rejuvenation.”

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by NetRef.

Watch the Recording Listen to the Podcast

About the Presenters

Carl Hooker has been part of an exciting educational shift with technology integration. During his 21 years in education, Carl has had a wide range of roles, from teacher to Virtualization Coordinator to Director of Innovation. Wherever he’s taught, and whatever his role, Carl has always had one common belief—kids need to drive their own learning.

Carl is the author of the six-part book series Mobile Learning Mindset, each part of which focuses on a different stakeholder and the role they play in a successful mobile learning initiative. In addition to his work as an author and district leader, Carl is a keynote speaker, consultant, and advisor to multiple EdTech start-up companies. He has been named Tech & Learning Leader of the Year and is a member of the Apple Distinguished Educator class of 2013. He is the host of the Learning Unleashed podcast through ISTE and the BAM network.

Doug Mesecar ranks among the small number of education consultants who have worked as an education policymaker, entrepreneur, and executive in the private sector. He has built a track record of success with deep knowledge about what drives the K-12 market, from the economic buyer to everyday user. A former teacher, Doug served at the U.S. Department of Education as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Department and Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Innovation and Improvement. He also served in the U.S. Congress as a professional staff member for the House Education and Workforce Committee. He held senior executive positions for companies serving the K-12 market, including IO Education (now Illuminate), Sylvan Learning, and Scholastic Education.

Harrison Parker has worked for education technology companies that support K–12 schools and districts for over 10 years. He specializes in implementation and integration of web-based learning and has worked with small, private schools all the way up to the largest public school districts in the U.S. Harrison heads up the NetRef program and is responsible for incorporating customer feedback into new products and features. NetRef is used in over 30 states in the U.S. to help keep students on task and ensure schools are increasing academic achievement in traditional, hybrid and virtual learning environments.

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NETREFEasy to use and integrate, NetRef is a classroom management and learning analytics solution that helps students stay focused and get the most out of digital learning. Now operating in schools in over 30 states, NetRef enables schools to maximize their EdTech investments by providing insight into the use of digital learning tools and by empowering teachers to keep students on task when using devices. Learn more at