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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Funding

What Is ESSER III Funding and What Can It Be Used For?

May 16th, 2024 | 6 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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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Congress offered financial resources to schools through the ESSER Fund. CTE programs throughout the country have used these funding opportunities to enhance learning and equip their teachers and students for future success.

With the deadline for allocating ESSER III funds approaching on September 30, 2024, CTE directors and administrators are looking to maximize their resources to benefit their programs.

To help you plan for the future of your CTE program, this article explores three of the most commonly asked questions educators and administrators have about ESSER III funding: 

  • What Is ESSER Funding? 
  • What Can ESSER Funds Be Used For?
  • How Can I Make the Most of ESSER CTE Funding? 

After reading this article, you’ll better understand what ESSER is, how it can be used, and the value it offers to your program and students in overcoming academic obstacles and preparing for the future.

What Is ESSER Funding?

In 2020 and 2021, Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided nearly $189.5 billion for K-12 and post-secondary schools called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. 

The three stimulus bills include: 

  • ESSER I was introduced as part of the CARES Act in May 2020, setting aside $13.2 billion for uses including technology, summer learning programs and student mental health support.
  • ESSER II was introduced as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), signed into law in December 2020, and includes all the provisions included in ESSER I plus an additional $54.3 billion. Added allowable uses include helping schools safely reopen and addressing learning loss.
  • ESSER III, commonly referred to as ARP ESSER, is part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and was enacted in March 2021. ESSER III includes everything outlined in ESSER I and II including an additional $122 billion for K-12 education.

At this point, your district has allocated and perhaps even spent all of your ESSER I and ESSER II funding. Schools were required to designate their funding for ESSER I in 2022 and for ESSER II in 2023.

However, ARP Act ESSER funding is available to allocate until September 30, 2024. This means that you can still earmark your district's share of the additional $122 billion in ESSER III to dream big and grow your CTE program.

What Can ESSER Funds Be Used For? 

All ESSER funds are to be used for the purposes outlined in each bill, but can also be used for anything that is allowable under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Act, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act or the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. 

The U.S government stipulates that ESSER funds may be used to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19 and its lasting impact on the education system. Districts must use at least 20 percent of ESSER funding to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions including online curriculum and educational technology. States and districts were given wide discretion on how to invest the remaining money. However, there are time limits for the money to be spent. To learn when these deadlines are, visit the United States Department of Education website

ESSER dollars are intended to elevate schools and accelerate learning to prepare schools and their students for future success. CTE plays an integral role in the process by ensuring students are on track for professional opportunities in a wide range of career pathways.

While CTE was not specifically called out in these emergency bills, numerous districts are using ARP ESSER funds to expand and enrich their CTE programs. Participating in CTE allows today’s students to gain valuable knowledge and skills and has been linked to higher student achievement, increased graduation and job placement rates. 

Moreover, investing in CTE offers today’s schools an opportunity to jumpstart students' career readiness by equipping them with valuable knowledge and skills for the workforce or continued education. 

How to Make the Most of Your ESSER III CTE Funding

While 20 percent of ESSER funds received by a district or school must be used to address learning loss, the rest of the funds offer teachers a valuable opportunity to enrich their classrooms, curriculum, and other factors contributing to student learning experiences. 

With the deadline for using ARP ESSER funding approaching, you can make the most of your available resources by using ESSER III funding for these CTE activities:

  • Professional development & training for teachers
  • Invest in digital curriculum or educational technology
  • Hiring additional educators and support staff

Teachers who consistently engage in professional development enhance their knowledge and skills to better meet the needs of their students and more effectively overcome challenges. Using ESSER funds to pay for professional development for educators is a great way to invest in both teachers and students in a CTE program. When educators are equipped with a wide variety of modern instructional methods and classroom management strategies they’re more easily able to adapt to changes.

The environment our students learn in has a direct impact on educational outcomes. Keeping that in mind, ESSER funding offers educators a great opportunity to create the most engaging and conducive learning environment for their students. These enhancements can be the key to improving the educational experience for everyone through better collaboration and social-emotional learning.

To provide an optimal learning environment, many schools are investing in digital curriculum and educational technology to make a difference for teachers and students.

Comprehensive solutions such as iCEV provide CTE programs with pre-made instructional materials, engaging projects and activities, and formative and summative assessments. Together with iCEV's extensive certification prep materials and data management through Eduthings, districts are able to unify their CTE programs and provide a more cohesive instructional experience.

Ultimately, there are a wide variety of ways CTE administrators can optimize their remaining ESSER funding to ensure the efficiency and sustainability of their programs long into the future. The key for CTE educators and advocates is to be forward-thinking and creative to ensure CTE receives an appropriate amount of funds when district leaders are deciding where the money is to be spent.

Discover Funding Opportunities for Your CTE Program

Sustained funding is critical to the ongoing growth of your CTE program. To ensure today’s students have the resources and experiences necessary for success, teachers and administrators must take advantage of the specialized funding opportunities available to CTE programs.

ESSER funding offers an unparalleled opportunity to invest in CTE programs to ensure high-quality CTE has a central place in K-12 education to equip students with invaluable knowledge and skills for their futures. The additional resources available to programs through ESSER III can help programs expand their offerings and plan for future educational opportunities.

However, ESSER is just one of a variety of CTE funding sources that can make a difference in your program. If you are looking to take your program even further, explore more funding sources and learn how to make the most out of funding sources available to CTE programs.


Learn More About CTE Funding