District leaders from across country seek answers on possible ARP relief spending extension

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona sent Aug. 29, 683 school district leaders from around the country, including 32 from California, asked for a reply to a previous letter requesting more time to spend American Rescue Plan funds.

In the prior letter, sent in July by national member organizations and national service organizations, an extension to Dec. 31, 2026 was suggested. Currently, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II and III funding must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2023 and Sept. 30, 2024, respectively.

After thanking Cardona’s Administration for its efforts to support K-12 education throughout the pandemic, the new request sought to expedite the release of “desperately needed” guidance to allow all COVID relief dollars to be spent as effectively as possible.

“We continue to act with great urgency in investing [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] funding in our classrooms and buildings,” the letter states. “However, the staggering social-emotional and mental health needs of our students requires continued staffing and programming as does the ability to continue to procure instructional materials and technology, provide professional development and supports for our educators and staff and modernize our school facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other airborne viruses this school year and beyond.”

That is why more time is needed to expend the funds and maintain services school communities need, according to the letter. Knowing whether an extension will be given, the circumstances that will make an extension permissible and the approval process with as much advance notice as possible is important for planning.

“Without the certainty that a valid and timely obligated expense will be deemed eligible for a liquidation extension well in advance of the need for the extension, we will be hesitant to rely on the possibility of an extension to continue using ESSER funds to make strategic investments to support students and schools,” the August letter states. “Critical budget decisions are made many months in advance of the start of a new school year. The sooner we know whether a liquidation extension can be granted, the better we can plan for the most effective and efficient use of ESSER funds.”

Staffing issues, difficulties with timelines for facilities upgrades, contract negotiations and pricing with outside providers, and the ability to offer students longer-term services such as mental health supports were listed as a few reasons an extension is needed.

“We encourage you to strongly consider a blanket liquidation extension that would allow districts to certify that funds will be used for allowable activities and properly obligated by the statutory deadline,” the letter states.