New Jersey is set to receive three rounds of federal emergency relief, totaling $4.3 billion, to address the impact of COVID-19 on public school students. The lion’s share of the funds will be allocated to school districts and charter schools across the state.
Education Law Center has prepared a Primer on Federal COVID Funds for New Jersey Schools that answers key questions on the amounts and distribution of the COVID relief funds. The Primer also explains the allowable uses for these funds under federal law and the requirement that districts and charter schools include parents and community members in the development of their spending plans.
The Primer is intended to assist students and parents, teachers and staff, and education and civil rights advocates in their efforts to hold districts and charter schools accountable for the effective use of the funds, so schools can safely reopen for in-person instruction in September.
As explained in more detail in the Primer, Congress approved funds for the nation’s public schools in March 2020, December 2020, and March 2021. These three rounds are known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds.
Congress intended the ESSER I, II, and III funds to support COVID-19 recovery and, because these funds are not recurring, they are not meant to cover regular annual expenses in school district budgets from year to year. All three rounds of funding may be used for costs incurred starting on March 13, 2020, when the COVID-19 national emergency was declared, and funding from the third round may continue to be used through the 2024-2025 school year.
In authorizing the ESSER funding, Congress utilized a federal formula that allocates higher levels of funding to districts serving greater numbers or percentages of children from low-income families. ELC has prepared interactive maps and charts to display how circumstances that lead to higher costs connected with the pandemic, such as limited technology and internet access and fewer school nurses and counselors, tend to be correlated to districts with greater proportions of students from low-income families.
The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) is responsible for overseeing the process of district planning and the use of ESSER funding. The NJDOE must provide regular updates about the uses of these funds, along with other related information, such as the mode of instruction being provided by schools (fully remote, in-person, etc.) and student enrollment and attendance data. At the local level, school districts must publicly share on their websites their plans for the use of ESSER funds and seek input from stakeholders within the school community in developing those plans.
Policy and Outreach Director
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Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications