A letter to U.S.Education Secretary Miguel Cardona signed by nearly 700 school district leaders at the end of August requests that the Education Department expedite guidance regarding extension deadlines for federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding.

The Education Department had said in May that it was allowing an 18-month liquidation extension, but school district leaders and school administration organizations said they need more guidance about how to apply for the extensions, according to a report from K-12 Dive.

The district leaders said that without clarity, it will be difficult to plan for the “efficient and effective” use of billions of dollars in funds, which have been essential in paying for pandemic-related learning recovery programs, building upgrades, mental health supports and more.

The letter focuses on spending deadline for $121.9 billion for PK-12 in the American Rescue Plan, also known as ESSER III. Districts would still need to commit to spending those funds by the Sept. 30, 2024, deadline, but the extension deadline could allow them to draw down those funds until March 31, 2026.

The obligation deadlines for ESSER I and ESSER II are Sept. 30, 2022, and Sept 30, 2023, respectively, although it is unclear if the 18-month extension only applies to ESSER III spending. In total, ESSER funding totals $189.5 billion.

A July 22 letter to Cardona from national education advocacy and service organizations, referenced in the letter from district leaders, specifically sought clarification about:

  • If the 18-month extension applies to ESSER I and ESSER II funding, in addition to ESSER III.
  • Whether the Education Department would consider a streamlined application process where states could make a blanket request for extensions for all districts in the state, rather than on a case-by-case basis.
  • If extensions for ESSER III liquidation activity could push beyond March 31, 2026, to Dec. 31, 2026, so funding would be available for the entire 2025-26 school year.

The groups also asked the Education Department to confirm that extensions would be considered not only for school infrastructure projects but also for other COVID-19 recovery activities, such as tutoring supports and summer school programming.

The advocacy director at AASA, The School Superintendents Association, said Education Department officials have told the organization they are crafting guidance. But with the ESSER I obligation deadline of Sept. 30 fast approaching, the guidance can’t come soon enough.

In January, AASA and 31 other education, health, environmental, labor and industry organizations, requested flexibility on the spending deadline. At the time, the groups said it would be “nearly impossible” for districts to meet the deadline given the logistical and staffing challenges.

Currently, no district or state has made a liquidation extension request because there is no process for applying. At this point, if districts have unspent funds by the liquidation deadline, those monies will be returned to the federal government.