Is it Too Little: Or Too Late?
By Charles Sosnik
Approximately 13,800 district superintendents are staring down the barrel of a September 30 deadline. That’s the date that all those ESSER funds must be committed.
Here it is, September already, and 40 percent of districts have spent less than 20 percent of ESSER III funding. Further, 60 percent have only spent about 30 percent.
Oh, and by the way, if they don’t use it by the deadline, they lose it. It being $54 Billion smackers. Clams. Dinero. Shekels. Wampum. Mean Green. More money than US schools spent in total on EdTech in 2021, a record-setting year.
But don’t worry. Some superintendents wrote a letter.
Hey, that’ll fix it. At least they better hope like heck it does.
683 superintendents from the AASA wrote a letter to Michael Cardona and delivered it last Monday. In the letter, the supes said, “We continue to act with great urgency in investing ESSER funding in our classrooms and buildings.” If that were true, they wouldn’t be showing up on the secretary’s doorstep 30 days before deadline with a Hail Mary pass designed to buy some additional time.
The examples the superintendents gave as to why they needed more time were nearly as feckless as the act of sending the letter. Here are two of the four:
- A popular, high-quality curriculum provider is willing to provide the district with more favorable pricing if they sign a 3-year contract rather than a 2-year contract beginning in the 22-23 school year. This will allow the district, for a minimal additional cost, to maintain the high-quality curriculum and correlated professional development, for an additional year.
- A district may have a contract to supplement in-person mental health services with a telehealth provider. The contract with the telehealth provider has proven successful in addressing student mental health needs and the district would like to ensure these services remain in place for the entirety of the 2024-2025 school year.
They’ve had eight months to commit an amount and they can’t work out a contract for curriculum? Or a telehealth provider? Money talks. I guarantee you if I had millions in hand, I could work out the details of a contract. Tell the curriculum provider you are buying two years for the discounted rate. For the telehealth provider, make your best deal and move on.
Perfection should never be the enemy of good. But that’s not what is going on. The problem is, we have had a deadline for the biggest blessing Washington has ever bestowed upon us, and we are about to blow it.
The letter goes on to state, “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. 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. As a result, 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.”
Basically, unless we’re sure the extension is in place immediately, we hesitate to even plan to use the money you gave us.
We better hope like crazy that the DOE can and will grant an extension. The letter is a gutsy call, and the supes have nerves of steel blaming the deadline on the grantor and threatening not to use the money unless the extension is given.
Gutsy and stupid.
If the extension isn’t granted, who loses? The superintendent? No. If anything, his job will be made much easier, not having to deal with the details of all that cash. Holy cow. What a headache!
The losers will be our children. The learners. They will miss out on the most amazing blessing, the money to significantly improve education. And why? Because someone didn’t want to deal with it right now.
That’s pretty lousey, guys.
About the author
Charles Sosnik is an education journalist and editor and serves as Editor in Chief at the Learning Counsel. An EP3 Education Fellow, he uses his deep roots in the education community to add context to the education narrative. Charles is a frequent writer and columnist for some of the most influential media in education, including the Learning Counsel, EdNews Daily, EdTech Digest and edCircuit. Unabashedly Southern, Charles likes to say he is an editor by trade and Southern by the Grace of God.