ESSER funding 101: Strengthening schools with federal resources

ESSER funding 101: Strengthening schools with federal resources

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding is part of the federal response designed to help schools deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies show that COVID-19 impacted the mental health of elementary, middle, and high school students and that the effects can be long-term in some cases. ESSER emergency funding channels financial support to schools needing it to deal with pandemic-related issues. ESSER funds for schools can be pivotal in helping institutions adapt to the unprecedented challenges they’ve experienced since 2020.

Keep reading to learn more about ESSER funding, including how the ESSER fund works, the emergency relief fund’s role in mental health, and when the opportunity to use it expires. 

What is ESSER funding?

ESSER funding provides financial assistance to schools and districts across the country that might be struggling to recover from the impact the pandemic had on them. The purpose of ESSER funds for schools is to ensure educational institutions get the financial support they need to overcome COVID-related obstacles for student learning. Funding can be used to help with immediate or long-term challenges educational institutions, students, and teachers have faced over the last several years. 

ESSER funding can help:

  • Mitigate student learning loss   
  • Facilitate safe school operations  
  • Support students’ mental health and well-being

How does ESSER funding work?

ESSER funding is available to schools until September 2024. However, if an extension is granted, schools can access the school program funds until December or March 2026. The federal government uses formulas involving enrollment numbers and poverty levels to determine eligibility for education funding. State agencies can then distribute funds to districts, charter schools, and other eligible entities. 

Schools hoping to get access to ESSER funds should submit an application that details how they would use the money — note that funds must be used according to federal guidelines. In most cases, schools have a multi-year window to spend ESSER funds. This allows them to use the money for immediate or long-term needs. 

The process for getting ESSER funds includes the following steps:

  1. Allocation: The federal government allocates funds to states based on a formula that assesses data such as student enrollment, poverty levels, and other demographic considerations.
  2. Distribution: State agencies distribute funds to local educational agencies (LEAs). Districts, charters, and other academic entities can also receive ESSER funds. 
  3. Application: Districts and individual schools can apply for ESSER funding via a proposal process that outlines what they need money for and how they plan to use funds to combat the impact COVID-19 had on students or schools. 
  4. Approval: State agencies then review and approve applications based on compliance with federal guidelines. 
  5. Utilization: After approval, funds can then be used for interventions designed to mitigate learning loss due to the pandemic. They can also be used to help support student health and mental well-being or ensure school operations are safe. 
  6. Reporting: ESSER funding recipients must report on their use of funds regularly. They’re required to share initiative outcomes and be fully transparent and accountable for how they used money. 
  7. Monitoring: Both federal and state agencies can monitor how funds are used to ensure compliance. 
  8. Expiration: Expiration dates can vary depending on which legislation funding is provided under. However, funds are often awarded across a multi-year window so schools can strategically use the money over an extended period of time or to address urgent needs.

Allowable uses for ESSER funding

ESSER funds allowable uses can go toward multiple purposes. Each has specific guidelines and stipulations — understanding them is essential to ensure compliance. 

Mitigate COVID-19-related learning loss

ESSER funding can help schools combat learning loss by paying for student services like extra tutoring programs, extended learning opportunities, or interventions for at-risk youth to address learning gaps resulting from the disruption of in-person instruction.

Making schools safer

Schools receiving ESSER funds can also use the money to make them safer by revamping cleaning procedures, updating ventilation systems, and purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Addressing mental health needs

Finally, ESSER funding can help support and improve student mental health when invested in mental health services, including counseling services, support groups, and other teaching strategies to address social and emotional needs. It can also go toward efforts to fight food insecurity for students and families. 

Utilizing ESSER funds for mental health & student outcomes

ESSER funds can support the mental health needs of students dealing with challenges posed by the pandemic. The funds can help schools expand crucial access to mental healthcare services, including therapy, counseling programs, social-emotional learning initiatives, and more. These efforts aim to bolster resilience and enhance well-being in secondary education.

As schools continue to prioritize mental health, school leadership can focus on overcoming the effects that stress, anxiety, and trauma have on learning and academic success for some students. Schools that invest in school services like mental health create a supportive, inclusive environment where students can thrive emotionally, socially, and academically. ESSER funds can help schools focus on and foster positive outcomes. 

How Talkspace supports mental health in schools

Talkspace is a modern-day solution for an age-old problem — mental health support in schools needs to be flexible and integrate seamlessly into current systems to support student and teacher mental health. When schools leverage ESSER funding, they can expand mental health services and enhance valuable support networks. 

Talkspace offers online therapy for students, connecting them with licensed, qualified, and experienced mental health providers who can adequately address their needs. It’s an innovative approach to mental healthcare that meets students where they are, ensuring equitable access to care regardless of geographical barriers, scheduling challenges, or any other reason that may prevent students from getting the help they need. 

Incorporating Talkspace into a school’s mental health initiatives demonstrates a commitment to student well-being, fostering support conducive to success in and out of the classroom. Schools and districts can use ESSER funds to address their students’ needs via the appropriate channels. Addressing the growing demand for accessible, convenient mental health care is essential for student well-being. With Talkspace, you can guide them toward the help they need.

Learn more about how Talkspace can help schools and districts effectively utilize ESSER funding today. Request a demo to get started. 


  1. Ng, Catalina Sau, and Sally Sui Ng. “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children’s Mental Health: A Systematic Review.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 13 (October 18, 2022).
  2. Lefebvre, Joanna. “Expiration of Federal K-12 Emergency Funds Could Pose Challenges for States.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 28, 2024.

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