Several education and civil rights organizations are urging the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to collect comprehensive state and district spending data for COVID-19 relief funds to ensure the money is reaching historically underserved students or those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

As detailed by a K-12 Dive report, the groups are suggesting that states include information on how interventions met the intended purpose for the funding set aside for each student subgroup so that stakeholders can better assess how students were served by the relief funding.

The letter, sent mid-September by nine education and civil rights organizations, including the Alliance for Excellent Education, the National Center for Learning Disabilities and The Education Trust, was included in the DOE’s call for comments about data submissions for the nearly $200 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

The groups suggest the data collection expand on the categories for reporting about use of funds to address lost learning time by including activities used to reengage students with poor attendance, the use of evidence-based practices to support language development for students learning English, restorative justice practices and more.

Adding another reporting requirement, however, will be burdensome for many districts.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), while endorsing the need for transparency and effective use of ESSER spending, voiced concerns about the logistics of the reporting requirements. As proposed, the ESSER collection would limit the ability of state and local education systems to accurately report data for the funds because data systems are not designed to capture individual student-level information by funding stream or intervention, according to CCSSO.

To comply, districts and states would need to integrate the collection of that information with existing school-level data collections, a process that could take years even though the ESSER reporting deadlines start in February 2022. CCSSO recommends the ESSER data collection align with the current structure of most state and local education agency data systems for “feasible, accurate, and timely reporting.”

Recognizing the data collection hardships some districts may face, the education and civil rights groups’ letter recommends the DOE produce a chart of data points that will be required by the ESSER data collection form and data being requested for other collections, such as the Civil Rights Data Collection.