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Funding Forward for Impact

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By Terrence McAllister and Tina Mashburn

The K–12 education system has experienced an unprecedented impact from the pandemic, exposing systemic inequities, learning loss, and traumatic experiences. No one expected or could have predicted its effect on mental health and well-being. For school and district leaders, it is critical to consider best practices for closing the learning loss and social and emotional learning (SEL) gaps created by the pandemic. This will not be an easy task, and it will require collaboration, research, and reflection. Consider these two questions as you think forward: Why is it important to include SEL in the strategic planning and budgeting process? And how can you sustain funding for SEL programs?

Including SEL in the Strategic Planning and Budgeting Process

In response to the impact of the pandemic on schools, the U.S. Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided nearly $190.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, which addressed learning loss and the need for SEL initiatives:

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (ESSER I)

  • Passed on March 27, 2020
  • $13.5 billion added to the ESSER Fund
  • The funds were to help districts and schools ensure learning continuity when they went to remote learning in the spring of 2020
  • Some state education agencies either used or will use the 10 percent reserve for SEL/mental health initiatives (including professional development)
  • Local education agencies and school leaders can use these funds to address local needs, which could include SEL/ mental health supports

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) (ESSER II)

  • Passed on December 27, 2020
  • $54.3 billion in supplemental ESSER funding
  • Focused on learning recovery
  • As in ESSER I, some state education agencies either used or will use the 10 percent reserve for SEL/mental health initiatives (including professional development)
  • Allowable uses for ESSER II are the same as those in ESSER I

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP Act) (ARP ESSER or ESSER III)

  • Passed on March 11, 2021
  • $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding
  • Some state education agencies either used or will use the 10 percent reserve for SEL/mental health initiatives (including professional development)
  • Local education agencies must reserve at least 20 percent of their total award to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions and ensure that those interventions respond to students’ social, emotional, and academic needs

It is the responsibility of all educators to use the funds for engaging students in learning experiences that will close gaps and support, encourage, and move them beyond their capacity.

In addition, the ARP Act includes the Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools II (EANS II) grant, a program that provides $2.75 billion in funding for all states (Center for Responsive Schools, 2022)

Sustaining the Funding for SEL Programs

Being fiscally responsible and directing resources so they will make an impact can be overwhelming for school and district leaders. As part of the budgetary process, review various data points that will provide trends to identify students, resources, and best practices that will support continuous improvement, embedded professional learning, and instructional planning:

  1. Create a plan.
  2. Align strategic priorities with a selection of resources. Allowable SEL expenditures include initiatives that address:
    • Academic achievement
    • School climate
    • Behavioral supports
    • Anti-bullying
    • Violence prevention
    • Mental well-being
  3. Know and understand the funding sources available and the requirement for utilization. For example, the U.S. government has been involved in providing funds through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) to support public schools. The top ESEA programs for SEL funding include:
  • Title I, Part A: Improving basic programs operated by local educational agencies
  • Title IV, Part A: Student support and academic enrichment grants
  • Title IV, Part B: 21st-century community learning centers
  • Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins IV)
  • Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B, 611

For ESSER I, II, and III, note the following:

  • Funds offer flexibility in addressing the pandemic’s impact on students
  • ESSER III has an additional emphasis on assessing and addressing learning loss
  • Local education agencies have many options for how COVID relief funds can be spent

As leaders navigate researching, implementing, and monitoring best practices to address the learning and SEL needs of students, they should pursue all options for funding these initiatives. Likewise, classroom teachers should not hesitate to ask leaders the tough questions about funding options. It is the responsibility of all educators to use the funds for engaging students in learning experiences that will close gaps and support, encourage, and move them beyond their capacity.



Terrence McAllister is the chief of educational partnerships at Center for Responsive Schools, with a focus on the Fly Five curriculum, and an assistant professor of educa- tional leadership at Fayetteville State University. Terrence has an extensive background in education, including as a teacher, principal, director, and assistant superintendent. He has a PhD in educational leadership from East Carolina University.

Tina Mashburn is the chief of special projects at Center for Responsive Schools. Tina has 30 years of public education experience as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, director, executive director, and assistant superintendent. She supports and coaches other educators in providing quality learning experiences for their teachers and students.

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