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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Funding

Optimizing ESSER Funding for Career and Technical Education

May 22nd, 2024 | 12 min. read

Joshua Witherspoon

Joshua Witherspoon

After serving as a Texas FFA state officer in 2018, Josh Witherspoon joined the iCEV team as a part-time employee for 3 years before taking on the role of content development specialist in 2022. Witherspoon holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural communications from Texas Tech University, in which his experience and proficiency in writing, marketing and CTE allow him to effectively communicate the successes of CTE educators and students and the value iCEV has to offer.

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Since 2020, the U.S. federal government has offered districts and schools an unprecedented funding opportunity through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). These resources represent a unique opportunity to invest in the future of education and provide new opportunities and programs for the next generation of students. 

For career and technical education (CTE), optimizing ESSER funding can make a critical difference in ensuring your program is set up for a bright and sustainable future. Because schools can use ESSER funding for any allowable expense under the Perkins Act, there are a wealth of opportunities to expand and enhance your CTE offerings now and free up your future funding sources. 

However, schools must act quickly: the final round of ESSER funding must be allocated no later than September 30, 2024. 

In this article, you’ll discover how to optimize your ESSER funding for CTE. We’ll first consider the background of using ESSER funding for CTE. Then, you’ll learn how ESSER funding can be used alongside other funding sources to support and expand your program. Finally, you’ll find a few ideas to make the ideal use of your ESSER III resources.

Using ESSER Funding for CTE 

As part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government provided a total of $280 billion for K–12 and postsecondary schools over three rounds of unprecedented investment into education. 

For perspective, $280 billion is 200 times the annual allocation for Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V). The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I, II, III) portion of each of the three emergency response bills totaled $189 billion for a range of uses from education technology to building costs and staff salaries. 

While states and districts were given wide discretion on how to invest these funds, there are time limits for spending the money. Schools were required to allocate their ESSER I and II funding in 2022 and 2023. However, ESSER III funding, also called ARP ESSER funding, is still available to allocate until September 30, 2024. 

Although CTE was not specifically called out in these emergency bills, many districts are using ESSER funds to prioritize and expand their CTE programs. That’s because ESSER dollars can be used for any allowable expense under Perkins V. You can use ESSER III funds to accelerate learning and build the future of your CTE program. 

Blending ESSER and CTE Funding  

CTE educators must be forward-thinking and creative to ensure the efficiency and sustainability of their programs. They must also advocate for their programs to receive adequate funds when state and district leaders decide where to spend the money.  

While a minimum of 20 percent of ESSER III funds must be spent on compensating for lost instructional time, districts have a broader latitude on how they may spend ARP ESSER resources. Even with the September 30, 2024, deadline approaching, many districts are still deciding where to allocate funding to achieve the maximal impact for their teachers and students. 

Below, we’ll consider a few ideas for using your remaining ESSER resources to enhance your CTE program. 

Ideas for Using ESSER Funds  

Depending on your specific CTE program and the goals you are trying to achieve, there are many different opportunities to expand your offerings for students and provide more instructional resources for instructors. 

In this section, you’ll find just four important ways you can use ESSER III monies to invest in the future of your program: 

  1. Investing in Digital Curriculum 
  2. Adopting a Data Management Solution 
  3. Updating Labs with High-Tech Training Systems 
  4. Professional Development and Training for Teachers 

As you look to the future of your CTE program, you may find that one or more of these opportunities could be a great way to apply your remaining ESSER resources.

1. Investing in Digital Curriculum

Finally, ESSER III funding represents a unique chance to invest in tomorrow’s students by adopting or expanding your digital curriculum offerings. 

Across the country, schools and districts have made significant investments in technology in response to the pandemic. Because digital learning allows CTE programs greater flexibility in course delivery and facilitates individualized instruction, it’s an ideal use of ESSER funding. 

Using a comprehensive digital curriculum such as iCEV also enhances traditional classroom instruction with pre-made lesson plans, engaging projects and activities, and formative and summative assessments. 

When you adopt an extensive digital curriculum, you’re able to expand your program offerings for students, prepare them for additional certifications and further education, and offer a seamless learning experience across entire CTE programs. Making this investment now can make all the difference as you look to attract more students and keep up with industry demand. 

2. Adopting a Data Management Solution

For many programs, one of the most fruitful uses of ESSER funding could be adopting a data management solution for your CTE program. Schools use a wide variety of methods to capture student data, often leading to disorganization. This can make complying with state and federal reporting requirements frustrating and can limit the insight educators can gain from analyzing CTE program data. 

If your program is dealing with one of the many problems associated with CTE data management, ESSER could be your opportunity to implement a more effective system

A CTE-specific data management solution can track program performance through a wide range of metrics, creating specialized reports that can help you grow your program and ensure every student succeeds. 

To comply with reporting needs and identify areas of growth and opportunity, many schools use Eduthings to create a custom solution for their CTE program. Eduthings integrates with student information systems (SIS) to create a secure and seamless data management process that makes analyzing and reporting simple.  

3. Updating Labs with High-Tech Training Systems

With the acceleration of technology, CTE programs can struggle to keep pace with changes in a wide range of industries. Because new technologies are adopted so quickly, it’s essential for career and technical education to instruct learners in these new innovations so they become qualified to work in their fields directly out of high school or postsecondary programs. 

Keeping up with these changes can be particularly difficult in areas such as manufacturing, where automation has required workers to develop a sophisticated understanding of high-tech machines. 

Investing in industry-grade equipment can be extremely expensive, but it allows CTE programs to upgrade the technical skills they teach to prepare students for today’s workforce. Using ESSER funds to buy much-needed equipment ensures programs are better equipped to face these challenges and continue to produce top-notch graduates. 

4. Professional Development and Training for Teachers

Investing in professional development and teacher training satisfies the aims of both ESSER and a thriving and growing CTE program. Because of frequent industry developments, it’s particularly important for CTE teachers to participate in ongoing professional learning regarding new equipment and increasing technical skills. 

Professional development in your program can take a variety of forms, from daylong seminars to webinars interspersed throughout the year to professional conferences and similar opportunities. 

As part of our commitment to serving CTE educators, iCEV offers frequent professional development seminars and webinars throughout the year. You can learn more and register for our next free event on the professional development page.  

Invest In Your CTE Program with ESSER III Funding 

Ultimately, the federal stimulus funds offered through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) create an unparalleled opportunity to make a significant investment in CTE programs throughout the country. Whether you are looking to expand your current program or create a new opportunity altogether, ESSER offers the perfect opportunity to build a CTE program. 

CTE programs provide students with the academic knowledge, technical skills, and practical experience they need to be successful in their post-secondary lives.  

This one-time infusion of ESSER stimulus funds represents the ideal time to ensure high quality CTE programs have a principal place in K–12 education. When you’re able to provide students with career-specific learning opportunities, you equip them with a robust set of skills that prepare them for future possibilities. 

To make this happen, you need to invest in your CTE program before the September 30, 2024 deadline to allocate ESSER III money has passed. This is why we’ve put together an ESSER funding page to ensure you can make the most of your opportunity. 

When you visit the ESSER page, you’ll find everything you need to know about allocating ESSER funding and using it to grow your CTE program: