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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Funding

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

May 25th, 2023 | 5 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 March 2020, teachers and students have continued to feel the dramatic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on primary and secondary schools across the U.S. With issues like learning loss and the need for increased access to technology you may be looking for funding opportunities to help your students get back on track and equip your classroom for any challenge.   

As a passionate contributor and supporter of CTE, educators often ask us about ESSER funding and how it can benefit their program.

This article explores three of the most commonly asked questions educators and administrators have about ESSER 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 your students in preparing them for their futures and overcoming academic obstacles caused by COVID-19.

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

Most likely, your district has used or planned out the first round of ESSER I funding from the CARES Act for immediate COVID-19 relief. The second round of ESSER funding allows you to earmark funds for rebuilding and transitioning purposes. Meanwhile, the last and larger round through the ARP Act is you and your district’s opportunity to dream big.

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% 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 make up for lost instructional time and accelerating learning to get students back on track for grade-level work and learning college and career skills, and CTE has an integral role in this process.

While CTE was not specifically called out in these emergency bills, numerous districts are using 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. 

With issues like learning loss and decreased graduation rates, 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 CTE Funding

While 20% 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. 

Recommended Ideas for Using ESSER Funds on CTE Activities

  • Professional development & training for teachers
  • Purchasing health and safety equipment to prevent the spread of disease
  • Invest in classroom furniture and equipment to keep teachers and students safe and/ or socially distanced 
  • 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.

Another valuable way to allot funding is to purchase classroom furniture as well as health and safety equipment to prevent the spread of disease and allow for more flexible learning space. As we’ve learned through the COVID-19 pandemic, the environment our students learn in has a direct impact on learning 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 changes not only prevent the spread of illness in the classroom but can improve opportunities for collaboration and social-emotional learning.

There are a wide variety of ways educators can optimize ESSER funding to ensure the efficiency and sustainability of their programs while combating the negative effects caused by COVID-19. 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.

What Other CTE Funding Opportunities Are There? 

The pandemic continues to have lasting effects on the educational system and the students whose academic journeys were interrupted by COVID-19. To ensure today’s students have the resources and experiences necessary for success, teachers and administrators must take advantage of 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. 

Thinking ESSER is a good opportunity for your students and CTE program? Explore more funding sources and learn how to make the most out of funding sources available to CTE programs. 

Learn More About CTE Funding