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Chief of Staff Scott Jones delivers update on CDE’s ESSER fund rollout to the Board of Education
Chief of Staff Scott Jones
Colorado school districts have been able to provide more after-school programs, summer learning opportunities and focused studies on math and literacy thanks to $1.8 billion the state received in ESSER funding, according to Scott Jones, CDE's chief of staff.
Jones provided a detailed presentation to the Colorado State Board of Education at its June meeting, providing an update on the funding from the federal government provided to address pandemic learning needs and enhance statewide education. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER, was launched in March 2020 to help schools and districts that were struggling during the early stages of the pandemic.
Ninety percent of ESSER, or $1.6 billion, was directly given to districts for them to use at their discretion to respond to the pandemic and recover from lost learning opportunities. ESSER I addressed critical needs at the onset of COVID-19 and helped schools transition to remote learning, ESSER II emphasized a safe return to school through facility improvements and learning loss coverage, while ESSER III, the largest portion, has been directed to address learning losses through summer, after school programs, and more. All three phases have also helped provide mental health support to districts to combat upward trends in youth and adolescent issues.
Next, Jones briefed the board on how the state used $180 million in directly controlled funds to support learning throughout Colorado, including $22 million for Rural Coaction, a program to provide students with career-connected learning. The program is funded out of the ESSER III state reserve.
“One of the most popular and most talked about programs that we implemented was the Rural Coaction program,” Jones said. “We allocated, originally, $15 million, but the popularity was so high for this and there was so much demand that we were able to do some reallocation and increase this to $22 million focused on how do we provide rural districts with the opportunity to collaboratively build career connected learning and not have to recreate the wheel in every district.”
Other projects funded by the Department of Education directly included $21 million in evidence-based programs for before and after school learning and $8 million for kindergarten through eighth grade mathematics and kindergarten through third grade READ Act curricula. To address teacher recruitment, CDE created an alternative licensure program designed to keep AmeriCorps tutors in the profession. To improve teacher retention statewide, the department created a peer mentoring program for teachers who began their careers during the pandemic and did not get the same level of support as their colleagues had in years past.
Jones next brought attention to ESSER programs still in development, saying, “We still have a couple programs that are still in the pipeline, one is around professional learning, specifically in mathematics. We want to provide additional professional funding resources to math teachers to help [improve] instructional practice and accelerate learning for students.” He elaborated on an upcoming teacher support initiative by stating, “We know that teachers have borne a great burden during the pandemic and every classroom has its own particular needs and so we are working on developing a program that would provide direct funding of small grants to address the academic needs of their classroom.”
Lastly, the Chief of Staff brought attention to the department’s stringent use of these funds and was proud to report it had only returned 0.045% of its allocated ESSER I funds to the federal government at the September 2022 deadline. ESSER II will expire this September and is also on track to be fully expended, while ESSER III funds are able to be used until September 2024.
Click here to view a video recording of the presentation. The next Board of Education meeting is Wednesday, Aug 16, 2023.