Fact Sheets

Without Replacement Funds for Expiring Pandemic Dollars, Schools Face Instability

When federal recovery funds expire on September 30, 2024, DC schools will lose significant resources that helped address the acute harm of the pandemic. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds supported school operations and student learning by paying for virtual learning devices, tutors for students experiencing “learning loss,” and the safe reopening of schools.[1] ESSER also required school districts to stabilize and protect funding for schools with high levels of poverty, which due to systemic racism, are those with a majority of Black and brown students. DC policymakers, DC Public Schools (DCPS), and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) must set a long-term vision and roadmap to adequately and equitably fund schools once ESSER dollars expire.

DC Received an Unprecedented Amount of Funding for Schools through ESSER

The US Department of Education provided the District’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) $600 million in ESSER grants, and OSSE has steadily spent down those funds through fiscal year (FY) 2024 (Figure 1).[2],[3] OSSE allocated most of the funds directly to DCPS and DC charter schools, with DCPS receiving nearly $304 million and pubic charters receiving $236.4 million.[4] The program allowed OSSE to keep up to 10 percent ($60 million) of ESSER funds, which OSSE used to reduce learning loss among students and pay for infrastructure and operations.[5]

Figure 1

Pandemic Recovery Funds Stabilized Budgets at Schools with High Poverty

ESSER advanced educational equity by prohibiting Local Education Agencies (LEAs) receiving support from cutting per-pupil funding for schools with high in FY 2022 or FY 2023.[6] This “maintenance of equity” (MOE) requirement helped stabilize budgets for schools mostly comprised of Black and brown students—especially those in Wards 7 and 8—and protected critical staff positions in those schools when local funding was inadequate.[7],[8] Due to ongoing need and historical local underfunding of some schools and supports, the failure to replace some of the ESSER dollars in the FY 2025 budget will undermine educational equity, particularly for the students further from opportunity.

DCPS and DC Charters Used the Majority of ESSER Funds to Accelerate Learning

LEAs have spent 64 percent of their ESSER allocations to “accelerate learning” throughout the District, according to OSSE’s data dashboard.[9] Accelerated learning includes funding staff positions, tutoring, and purchasing distance learning materials. LEAs’ next largest ESSER spending categories were for safe reopening (24 percent), followed by student and staff well-being expenses (7 percent), such as mental health services.

While the dashboard provides high-level information on ESSER allocations, it’s limited in its functions. For example, it does not allow users to compare across LEA, ward, or school type and lacks allocation and spending information at the school level. This makes it difficult to verify compliance with MOE requirements and assess the potentially effect the loss of ESSER dollars will have at the individual school level. While data hasn’t been shared yet on the effectiveness of all ESSER-funded programs, District leaders have been keeping a pulse on the benefits of high-impact tutoring. A recent report showed that students who received high impact tutoring are less likely to be absent.[10] Mayor Bowser announced in early March that her FY 2025 budget would include a $4.8 million investment to continue high-impact tutoring.[11],[12] However, the continuation of other ESSER-funded services like mental health supports remains uncertain.

Strategies to Avoid Budget Instability

The lack of full detail and transparency on ESSER spending, underscore the need for the mayor and DC Council to strategically protect school budgets as one-time funds expire. OSSE should work with school principals and Local School Advisory Teams to assess which ESSER-funded programs and positions were most effective and remain most critical for their school community. OSSE can also hold town halls to understand what tools and resources would help school communities continue to recover from the pandemic.

Then, lawmakers should create a plan to use local revenue to maintain funding for these targeted programs and positions to ensure school stability and meet the ongoing needs of students, families, and educators. The FY 2025 budget oversight hearings provide parents, students, and education stakeholders the opportunity to testify and reinvest in ESSER-funded programs and positions.[13]

[1] Congress included ESSER funding in its three federal stimulus packages, and the funds are known as, respectively, ESSER I-CARES, ESSER II-CRRSA, ESSER III-ARP. To learn more, see: “Federal Stimulus Law Definitions,” Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Accessed January 2024.

[2] DCFPI Staff, “How DC Funds Its Public Schools,” DC Fiscal Policy Institute, February 6, 2024.

[3] ESSER expenditures listed in DC City Administrator Kevin Donahue’s Testimony at the Committee of the Whole Hearing FY 2023 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report, February 1, 2024.

[4] DCFPI Analysis of the Office of the Superintendent of Education’s LEA ESSER Dashboard.

[5] For more information see: “OSSE’s Investments in Recovery and Restoration,” Office of the State Superintendent of Education, December 2023.

[6] The US Department of Education defines high-poverty schools as 25 percent of schools in an LEA with the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

[7] LEAs are exempt from the maintenance of equity requirements if they only operate a single school; only operate one school per grade span; have a total enrollment of less than 1,500; or did not receive ESSER I-III grants. For more information, see: OSSE, “ESSER Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), accessed February 2024.

[8] Qubilah Huddleston, “Greater Investments in Public Education Still Fail to Set a Roadmap for Transformation and Equity,” DC Fiscal Policy Institute, October 1, 2021.

[9]LEA Dashboard,” Office of the State Superintendent of Education, February 1, 2024.

[10] Scott Gelman, “DC’s high-impact tutoring programs are also improving school attendance,” WTOP, March 8, 2022.

[11] Executive Office of the Mayor, “Mayor Bowser Announces New Investments in High-Impact Tutoring and Reimaging High School,” March 20, 2024.

[12] To learn more, see: Ed Trust, “Advocating for Education Equity as ESSER Spending Winds Down,” August 22, 2023.

[13] See the DC Council calendar to sign up to testify or listen to hearings related to public education.