An update on ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding from the American Rescue Plan

Posted Oct 19, 2021, by Paul Fedore

high school in Washington County

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was passed in March of 2021 and allocated $122.7 billion dollars in supplemental Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding; this is now known as the ESSER III fund. The first two-thirds of the funding has already been disbursed to individual states to be distributed. In order to receive the remaining third of the ESSER funding, and to comply with its terms and conditions, each State Education Agency (SEA) was required to develop and submit an ARP ESSER plan that includes a description of the current educational needs in the state, the intended uses of the funds, and strategies for supporting school entities in their planning for and use of federal funds. You can read more about Pennsylvania’s’ ARP ESSER state plan here. The plan has been approved, and the state has received its final payment.

At least 90 percent, or approximately $4.5 billion dollars, of the fund will flow to eligible public school districts and charter schools. Each entity will receive an amount proportional to the federal Title I-A funds in 2020 under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The state can also reserve 10% of the allocation for emergency needs as determined by the state to address issues responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The SEA will have one year from the date of its ESSER award to distribute funds. Any funds not awarded by the SEA within one year of receiving its reward will be returned to the Department of Education to be reallocated to other states, consistent with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act. You can find a breakdown of how much of Pennsylvania’s funding will be going towards each funding category here.

For a breakdown of how much money school districts in Pennsylvania will be receiving, you can visit the Pennsylvania Department of Education Website (or see below for the allocations directed toward schools in Washington County). Allocations are based on each Local Education Agency (LEA)’s share of the final fiscal year 2020-21 state-determined Title I, Part A award. Title I-A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides assistance to Local Education Agencies with high numbers or a high percentage of students from low-income families to ensure all students meet state academic standards.

Washington County ARP ESSER III Allocations are as follows:

Avella Area School District $619,365

Bentworth School District $2,186,211

Bethlehem-Center School District $1,620,127

Burgettstown Area School District $1,452,456

California Area School District $1,125,746

Canon-McMillan School District $2,949,365

Charleroi School District $3,563,286

Chartiers-Houston School District $1,165,383

Fort Cherry School District $1,093,378

McGuffey School District $1,563,710

Peters Township School District $752,399

Ringgold School District $4,940,872

South Fayette Township School District $567,782

Trinity Area School District $3,877,355

Washington School District $5,728,370

The money allocated to each of these school districts is meant to be used in several different ways to help ensure that all students, teachers, and staff have a safe and effective return to school. The list below describes some of the different ways these funds can be used.

How schools can use their funds:

  • Coordinate preparedness and response efforts to COVID-19;
  • Provide principals and other school leaders with resources to address individual school needs
  • Address the unique needs of low-income children, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth, including outreach and service delivery;
  • Implement systems to improve LEA preparedness and response efforts;
  • Deliver professional development for LEA staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious disease, and purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean LEA facilities;
  • Plan for and coordinate operations during long-term closures, including how to provide meals, technology for online learning, guidance for carrying out Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements, and providing educational services consistent with applicable requirements;
  • Funds may also be used to develop and implement public health protocols for reopening and continuing operations of school facilities to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff.

Although ESSER funds are distributed to LEAs based on Title I-A allocations, these are not Title I-A funds. ESSER funding is its own, separate funding. Accordingly, ESSER funds must be awarded and tracked separately from Title I-A funds. ESSER funds do not include a supplement, not supplant requirement*, and are not subject to ranking and serving provisions that define how an LEA distributes funds to schools. An LEA may support any school within the LEA, target funds based on poverty, the indication of school needs, or other targeting measures.

If you have questions or want to get involved, please feel free to contact Paul at paul@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org or 724-229-3550 ext. 8.

*The term “supplement, not supplant” usually means that federal funds cannot be used to perform a service that would normally be paid for with state or local funds. In other words, since this is not a requirement, these funds can be used in ways similar to local and state funds.


  • Paul Fedore

    Paul Fedore has been a resident of Washington County since 2016 and previously worked with Washington County United, a chapter of PA United, as a canvasser fighting for economic, environmental, and racial justice. He loves camping, hiking, fishing, and boating. Paul joined CCJ’s team in July 2020 as the Field Program Coordinator to help deepen and strengthen our relationships with communities in southwestern Pennsylvania and to ensure that people have a pathway to engage in improving their communities. As of late 2023, Paul is now a Community Organizer, and is excited to work with everyone to hold fossil fuel companies and our elected officials accountable and to organize to build power in our small towns and rural communities. Contact Paul at paul@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

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