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D.C. Voices: Planning for the end of ESSER funding

February 22, 2024
  • Hannah Mason

From fiscal year 2019 to 2024, the budget for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in D.C. rose from $1.7 billion to at least $2.6 billion, marking a 56 percent increase while enrollment grew by 9 percent.1 This expansion was fueled not only by increases to the Universal Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) but also by federal grants like $540 million in Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and additional funds from other local non-formula sources for various purposes including budget stabilization, pandemic support, and negotiated teacher salary increases (in the case of DCPS) and other salary increases (in the case of charter LEAs).2

ESSER, about 4 percent of school budgets since 2020, and other one-time funds are expiring in fiscal year 2025, leaving schools with significant expected resource gaps.3

To address this gap, in fiscal year 2025, Mayor Bowser has proposed a historic 12.4 percent increase to the foundation level in the UPSFF, which determines budgets based on school characteristics such as enrollment, grade levels, and specific student characteristics.4 This investment will help to smooth the fiscal cliff and to allow for continued investments to accelerate learning and support student wellbeing, as education recovery from the pandemic will be a multi-year effort.

As of February 2024 reporting, there is a remaining $175 million in ESSER III funding (see Figure 1 below).5 The average LEA has $1,866 left in ESSER III to spend, or 42 percent of the requested allocation for a student who is “at-risk” in school year 2024-25. Six LEAs have spent all their ESSER funds already, and four LEAs have more than half of their total amounts to spent in the final year (DCPS has 38 percent of their ESSER funds still available).

ESSER III funds are set to expire in September 2024. The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that grantees may submit liquidation requests for up to 14 months, in this case, March 26th, 2026, for ESSER III funding. In requests to extend the use of funds, states must provide an analysis of data on how extending these funds will maximize investments to address academic recovery.6

Grantees are also encouraged to highlight investments in three of the evidence-based strategies that contribute to improved student performance: increasing daily student attendance; providing high-quality tutoring; and increasing access to before, after, and summer learning and extended learning time. States have until December 31st, 2024, to file extension requests.7

How LEAs spend this money in the last year as well as plan for future years will be critically important.  

We asked key stakeholders to share their perspectives on the impact ESSER funding could have on schools, students, and communities. 

Danielle Branson, Deputy Superintendent of Academics and Schools, Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) 

Strategic planning for the use of federal ESSER funds has been and continues to be of the utmost importance for OSSE. Currently, there’s approximately $175 million of ESSER III funds remaining for local education agencies (LEAs) to spend. In the last few years, we’ve seen DC’s LEAs shift the use of ESSER spending from supporting the safe return to in-person school to accelerating learning through targeted academic interventions, which is a multiyear process. We expect this shift will continue through this school year and potentially into 2024-25, if LEAs choose to take advantage of the liquidation extension guidance recently announced by the Department of Education.  

OSSE will provide a range of supports to help LEAs develop sustainability plans as they navigate what’s next after the ESSER funds expire. These supports will include highlighting flexibilities in how LEAs can spend existing federal funds, such as Title I, and convening LEAs to discuss how to continue successful initiatives into the 2024-25 school year and beyond. OSSE’s goal is to help LEAs be intentional in the analysis of what’s working and to think creatively about how to leverage the flexibility we do have to soften the impact of this fiscal cliff. 

OSSE has identified six evidence-based strategies, aligned with the federal government’s priorities, that we have supported directly or indirectly with federal stimulus funds and that we will continue promoting next school year and beyond as part of an ongoing, collective investment in recovery. These strategies include: (i) implementing high-quality English language arts (ELA) and math curricula; (ii) expanding access to frequent one-on-one or small group tutoring; (iii) extending learning time through summer or after school programs; (iv) investing in mental health supports for students; (v) reducing chronic absenteeism; and (vi) reimagining high school through strengthened career and college connections. By identifying these priorities, we hope to encourage LEAs to continue investments that they’ve begun in these areas, prioritizing these in any liquidation extension requests, and taking advantage of the resources and supports that we offer. 

We see incredible need to sustain all six of the evidence-based strategies in order to continue the work of recovery, but I’d like to highlight a few in particular. At the systems level, we believe it is essential to combine evidence-based universal support to improve the quality of instruction for all our students, with targeted support for students with the highest need. For example, we see strong promise with schools adopting high-quality instruction and materials and aligned professional development for educators. OSSE has supported this with our own competitive grant programs and by offering professional development for educators in the science of reading and whole school math bootcamps, focused on content and pedagogy. To provide additional, targeted support for students’ greater academic needs, we’ve invested heavily in scaling quality high-impact tutoring across the District, which research shows is one of the most effective interventions for realizing dramatic gains in learning, particularly for low-income students.  

Recovery is not complete. The pandemic erased years of academic progress and exacerbated long-standing inequities. It’s going to take multiyear, continued investments to recover from this, and we must support LEAs in pushing forward with important, incremental progress. 

Cat Peretti, Executive Director of CityTutor DC 

Over the past few years, school budgets have increased with the influx of ESSER funds that has allowed many schools to place additional adults in the building to serve students. CityTutor DC is one example of a new opportunity to accelerate learning and achieve other objectives through high-impact tutoring. These additional supportive adults in school buildings have provided significant bandwidth for schools to operate, and schools will now have to contract spending and nail down the most valuable instruction and well-being initiatives. 

The ending of ESSER funds will be especially challenging because it means fewer resources for students available to them, though great needs still remain. Moving forward, schools will have to make evidence-based choices on how to navigate the shifting funding landscape and which initiatives to continue in 2024-25. Making data-informed decisions with confidence has been particularly difficult for the past few years because there have been so many confounding variables with students and our communities, including a significant increase in community violence. This reality impacts consistent attendance and safe passage, which in turn impacts the effectiveness of interventions put into place. Everything is interrelated, and if we see schools as the engines of change in our communities, it seems that communities may suffer because of the end of this funding.  

Early outcomes for high-impact tutoring in D.C. have shown that more tutoring leads to greater academic growth. More than half of D.C.’s public and charter schools are implementing high-impact tutoring, and we know from the EmpowerK12 Bold Schools report that 86% of those surveyed at the Bold Schools said they’re implementing high-impact tutoring as they outperform expectations in math and English Language Arts (ELA). In addition, citywide, we’re seeing modest academic gains and we must keep the forward momentum. A significant proportion of the population receiving high-impact tutoring is at-risk and benefitting from personalized attention and instruction. And attendance of students with a tutor compares favorably to their counterparts. If students have another adult they can trust in the building, there’s a greater likelihood of attending school, which is especially important to counteract the truancy crisis on our hands. 

John Snowdy, Principal of Friendship Ideal Elementary & Middle Public Charter School

Despite the impacts the pandemic brought, many of these issues (poverty, low academic achievement, mental health, and housing instability) were already salient in struggling communities. While other schools might have been able to rebound from the pandemic’s effects, certain schools were already performing at low levels and experiencing socioeconomic disenfranchisement. The distribution of federal funds have been an extreme asset to these schools and removing them is placing already disadvantaged schools with even greater challenges.  

Title I schools need these supplementary funds, and the results that schools have been able to produce academically justify the continuation. For example, Friendship PCS – Ideal Elementary and Middle prioritized using ESSER funds to hire additional personnel and staff address specific student needs that were created and exacerbated by the pandemic. This resulted in our middle school having DC’s highest middle school literacy growth on PARCC in 2023. The strategic use of ESSER funds also contributed to our school being recognized as a Bold Performance school. Looking at the data, it’s clear what students need to address gaps, and it’s unclear how continuing these added supports will happen when this funding ends.  

The impact communities will experience with the removal of ESSER is also great. The community at large will have fewer jobs with reduced funding. In addition, attracting highly skilled individuals to underserved areas will be difficult because there will not be enough room in the budgets for their skills. Communities may not have the same skilled labor because these resources have been taken away. There is already an epidemic with housing affordability, mental health supports, and illnesses, and eliminating this funding is likely to exacerbate these issues. 

Betty Chang, Managing Partner of Field Building, Education Resource Strategies  

With ESSER funds going away, many schools and districts across the country will be facing a similar situation as the schools in D.C. Recent studies show that budgets in the highest-need LEAs are anticipated to drop 5-20%.8 In D.C.’s case, DCPS schools will face a 13 percent gap and public charter schools will face a 15 percent gap. 

Similar to what happened in D.C., LEAs across the country have invested ESSER dollars in a variety of ways. Some ESSER spending went to one-time investments like improving air filtration systems or creating temporary digital access, while other ESSER spending covered staff positions or salary increases that have recurring costs. In particular, ESSER funds were often used to maintain or to increase staffing levels during a time of stagnant or declining enrollment. For those LEAs, this means that a reduction in personnel is likely an unavoidable reality of upcoming budget conversations.  

Context also really matters when LEAs are making decisions on what to cut and what to keep when ESSER funding ends or must be obligated by September 2024. ERS recommends that LEAs take a holistic view of their budgets, which includes reviewing both ESSER-funded investments as well as pre-ESSER investments. Education Resource Strategies (ERS) also recommends using a System Strategy return-on-investment (ROI) approach that assesses strategy effectiveness through reviewing leading indicators like attendance and engagement when outcomes data is not yet available, to create a decision-making process for tough budget conversations.  

And lastly, it’s important for LEAs to keep equity implications in mind as they’re making budget decisions. Many standard budget reduction approaches have significant equity implications, for example, freezing vacancies which disproportionately tends to impact highest-need schools who experience the most staff turnover, or doing uniform 10% reductions at every school without accounting for differences in student needs, or last-in-first-out reduction-in-force policies that will likely disproportionately impact teachers of color given the efforts to diversify the teaching workforce in recent years. Check out the free toolkit from the Alliance for Resource Equity to how to maintain a focus on resource equity even during tough budget reductions. 


  1. Sayin, Y. & Coffin, C. 2023. The fiscal future of public education in the District of Columbia. Retrieved from https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/dc-fiscal-future-in-education/
  2. Sayin, Y. & Coffin, C. 2023. The fiscal future of public education in the District of Columbia. Retrieved from https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/dc-fiscal-future-in-education/
  3.  Sayin, Y. & Coffin, C. 2023. The fiscal future of public education in the District of Columbia. Retrieved from https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/dc-fiscal-future-in-education/
  4. Government of the District of Columbia. 2024. Mayor Bowser and DC Public Schools Release Initial Schools Budget. Retrieved from https://mayor.dc.gov/release/mayor-bowser-and-dc-public-schools-release-initial-schools-budgets
  5. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). 2024. LEA ESSER Dashboard. Retrieved from https://osse.dc.gov/page/lea-esser-dashboard
  6. U.S. Department of Education. 2024. U.S. Department of Education General and Technical Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for CARES ESSER, CARES GEER, CRRSA ESSER, CRRSA GEER, CRRSA EANS, ARP ESSER, and ARP EANS Liquidation Extension Requests. Retrieved from https://oese.ed.gov/files/2024/01/Updated-Technical-FAQs-for-Liquidation-Extensions-1.9.24-v-2-for-posting.pdf
  7. U.S. Department of Education. 2024. ARP-Liquidation-Extension. Retrieved from https://oese.ed.gov/files/2024/01/ARP-Liquidation-Extension-Letter-1.9.24-final-for-signature-v3.pdf
  8. Based on ESSER allocation data from Edunomics ESSER Expenditure Dashboard and FY19 revenue data from NCES ELSI, approximated by assuming an even distribution of spend across the four years of the ESSER timeline.


Hannah Mason

Senior Education Research Analyst
D.C. Policy Center

Hannah Mason is the Senior Education Research Analyst at the D.C. Policy Center. 

Prior to joining the Policy Center in 2023, Hannah served as Emergent Bilingual Coordinator and Instructional Coach at Nashville, Tennessee. She was most proud of her abilities to build community amongst her students, drive language acquisition success, and advocate tirelessly for equity in and outside of the classroom for her students. In addition, she began her teaching career in Houston, Texas where her love of literacy and language blossomed.

Hannah is originally from Dublin, Georgia. She holds a Bachelor’s in religion and teaching English to speakers of other languages from The University of Georgia. Hannah graduated from Vanderbilt University with an Master’s in Public Policy concentrating in K-12 Education Policy.