You are here

CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF)


The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was enacted on March 27, 2020, a $2 trillion package of assistance measures, including $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund. The Education Stabilization Fund will be allocated according to the following percentages:

  • 9.8 percent to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund ($2.95 billion)
  • 43.9 percent to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund ($13.23 billion)
  • 46.3 percent to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund ($13.95 billion)

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund dollars will be appropriated to state education agencies (SEAs) based on the previous year’s Title I shares, with 90% to be allocated to local education agencies that received a Title I allocation in the most recent fiscal year and the remaining 10% for an SEA reserve fund. LEA allocations will be calculated using the Title I formula however relief funds will not be subject to Title I requirements.  

Colorado has been allocated $120,993,782 from the U.S. Department of Education from the ESSER Fund.  Of the total allocation to Colorado, CDE must allocate a minimum of $108,894,404 (90%) to local education agencies (LEAs) and may reserve no more than $12,099,378 (10%).  Of the state reserve, CDE may use no more than $604,969 (½ of 1%) for administrative purposes.  The 10% SEA reserve is to be used for emergency needs as determined by the SEA to address issues related to COVID-19, which may be addressed through the use of grants or contracts.

Projected LEA Allocations 

CDE has created a spreadsheet to project the estimated allocation each LEA will receive in ESSER funds (PDF). The actual allocations may vary slightly. 

Allowable Use of Funds for LEAs

LEA allocations under ESSER must be used to address the impact COVID-19 has had and continues to have on elementary and secondary schools within the LEAs boundaries, including continuing educational services to students during school building closures and developing and implementing plans for the return to normal operations.

While ESSER allocations are calculated using the Title I formula, these funds may be used for any allowable activities under ESSER and are not subject to Title I requirements.  In general, LEAs can use ESSER funds for activities authorized by ESEA, IDEA, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Perkins CTE Act, or the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  Examples of allowable activities include coordination with public health, purchasing educational technology, planning for long term closures, training and supplies for sanitation, mental health support, summer school and after school programs, funds for principals to address local needs, and other activities to continue school operations and employment of existing staff. For a full list of allowable uses, please review Appendix A of the ESSER Fund Certification and Agreement (PDF) from the U.S. Department of Education (which delineates Section 18003(d) of the CARES Act). 

Both the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund have a provision to provide equitable services to non-public schools.

State Set Aside Funds

From Colorado’s ESSER allocation, CDE may reserve no more than $12,099,378 (10%) to address emergency needs as determined by the department to address issues related to COVID-19.  Of the state reserve, CDE may use no more than $604,969 (½ of 1%) for administrative purposes. 

At this time, CDE has determined that $4.6 million of the state reserve will be directed to school districts,  BOCES and Tribes that received little or no relief funding in LEA distribution. The distribution will provide additional broadband services and support students with the greatest needs. CDE will reserve the rest of the $12 million set aside for state-level activities to address potential issues that could arise as the pandemic continues.

The $4.6 million will be distributed in the following ways:

  • $750,000 to help BOCES with gaps in their special education funding and to provide operational support for BOCES with brick-and-mortar schools.
  • $70,000 to support educational needs of the Colorado Tribes.
  • $320,000 for 11 districts to support educational needs of the Native American students. 
  • $1.5 million for districts that did not receive or received a very small allocation from the 90% allocation. 
  • $2 million for districts, BOCES and Tribes for connectivity to broadband. 

The use of the remaining state set aside funds will be determined by the commissioner later in the fall of 2020.

Providing Equitable Services to Students and Teachers in Non-public Schools 

The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) had published on July 1, 2020 an Interim Final Rule (IFR) regarding equitable services under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an opinion and an order, on September 4, 2020, vacating the IFR. The USDE has indicated that it will abide by the court’s ruling. Accordingly, the IFR is no longer in effect and the process for calculating equitable services described in the CARES Act has been restored.

Because the IFR is no longer in effect, LEAs must calculate proportionate share  “in the same manner as” Title I funds  in order to be in compliance with the CARES Act.  

CDE's Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) application previously allowed LEAs to calculate proportionate share using the total student enrollment in the district and non-public schools (per IFR) or to calculate the proportionate share based on the Title I process called for in the CARES Act. The application has been updated in alignment with court ruling and will allow districts to calculate the proportionate share using low income students.

If an LEA used any of the methods allowed under the IFR while it was in effect between July 1 and September 4 and has already obligated funds for equitable services, the LEA does not need to change the calculations or consult again with the non-public schools.  If an LEA has not yet obligated funds, the LEA must consult with its non-public schools again and recalculate equitable services using the procedure in the CARES Act.  If an LEA used the CARES Act method, no changes are required. 

Districts will need to consult with non-public schools to determine support available and collect the necessary information to perform the proportionate share calculation.

ESSER Funds and Charter Schools

The CARES Act does not directly address allocation of district ESSER funds to charter schools that are not standalone LEAs. The clear legislative intent, however, is to benefit all public schools and students regardless of school type. See, e.g., CARES Act Sec. 18003(d)(3).  CDE asks that districts include their charter schools on equal footing with traditional schools, when determining the most important educational needs as a result of COVID-19, consistent with the intent of the CARES Act and the intent of Colorado law, see C.R.S. 22-30.5-112(3).  LEAs must meaningfully engage all school leaders, including charter school leaders, in determining their plans for using ESSER funds.

Release of ESSER Fund Certifications and Agreements 

On April 23, 2020, CDE received the ESSER Fund State Allocations table, certification and agreement (the State’s application for ESSER funds). CDE submitted the application on May 5, 2020 to the U.S. Department of Education and released the ESSER application for funds on May 31, 2020. CDE created a streamlined application that meets the assurances and requirements delineated in the signed USDE Certification and Agreement document provided below.

Period of Grant Funding

  • SEAs must award funds within one year of receiving funds from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • The initial award period is from March 13, 2020 through June 30, 2021 and LEAs have until September 30, 2022 to expend funds

Next Steps

CDE will engage stakeholders to the extent possible to get input on discretionary state fund use and on the process CDE will use to make the  state reserve funds available. CDE is committed to ensuring the most streamlined process possible for using the state reserve funds to address COVID-19 related issues in Colorado, in a manner that is responsive to the needs identified through stakeholder input and with the Governor’s efforts with GEER funds.

CDE is reviewing the responses to a stakeholder survey on input on how CDE may use the 10% state reserve funds under the CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). 

CDE is in the process of finalizing the process for LEAs to apply for the LEA portion of ESSER funds (the 90% being distributed to LEAs) and anticipates releases the application by the end of May.