Campus Funds

How Academic Decision-Makers Can Utilize ESSER and HEERF Funding

By Ron Baer

Students and faculty across the country’s 132K public and private K-12 schools and 7,000 higher education institutions have struggled the past year and a half to stay engaged in a digital-first curriculum. However, as the current school year comes to a close, a return to normalcy in the new school year finally seems possible. This is an exciting prospect for many, but resuming full-time in-person instruction will not be without plenty of challenges.

To assist in addressing these challenges, the U.S. Congress established the $189 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and the $77 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) to provide financial support to K-12 and higher education schools as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. An additional $100 billion in funding to support building new schools and making infrastructure improvements to existing ones is expected to be voted on by Congress this summer.

Available until September 2024, money from ESSER and HEERF is intended to facilitate the safe and healthy return to in-person instruction, ensuring that schools across the nation can meet the needs of their staff and students from an education, safety, security, and wellness perspective. However, there are many questions about how the funds are distributed and how to make the most of every dollar received.

Distributing Funds
To reach the communities with the most need, the funds are carefully distributed from federal to state and local education agencies. Funds for the CARES Act flow from Congress to the Department of Education, which then distributes the funds to each State Education Agency (SEA) based on Title 1 guidelines. Each SEA then allocates funds to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) based on their Title 1 and Wealth-Challenged status, as well as their submitted recovery plans and budgets.

The CARES Act requires higher education institutions to spend half of their allocated funds on student financial aid grants for expenses related to disrupted campus operations due to the coronavirus. The remaining funds may be used for additional emergency student aid grants, or to cover costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.

Recovery plans assess four components: academics, physical & structural, business function, and social emotional and behavioral. As LEAs develop their recovery plans, they are either required or advised to consult local education stakeholders, including administrators and teacher organizations and unions, provide a high-level of public visibility into their budget and plans, and secure document endorsement by procurement officials, superintendent, local school board, legal staff, state school facilities oversight authorities, and their respective SEAs.

Optimizing Funds
As students across the country sign off for summer break, the work is only beginning for academic leaders, who must make critical decisions about the 2021/2022 school year. Top of mind for many is how to optimize ESSER and HEERF funding to deploy solutions that will enable a safe return to full-time in-person learning in the fall.

To guide the strategic process, here are three key areas academic decision-makers should consider when determining an approach for in-person instruction:

  1. Reduce touchpoints: Limiting touchpoints across campus is critical to creating a healthy environment where students and teachers can resume everyday activities. Replacing traditional common touchpoints, like classroom, hallway and bathroom doors, with touchless solutions, such as arm and foot pulls or electrified door operators, can significantly reduce the risk of virus and germ transmission. Overhead stops and holders can also be used to reduce touchpoints in high trafficked areas during the day.
  2. Expand access control to every opening: Extending access control to doors and other openings across campus can help manage traffic flow, limiting the number of people in an area at a given time, and allowing educators to quickly and easily adapt the functionality of a space.  Wireless locks offer an easy, affordable way to extend access control to more doors and to more applications, giving you greater control throughout a school or campus. These wireless locks can be operated and monitored remotely to close off rooms that need to be cleaned or implement a full security lockdown in case of emergency.
  3. Consider aesthetics: While reducing the spread of germs has been a top priority during the pandemic, schools still have many other aspects of student/teacher safety and well-being to consider. And today, there are more solutions available than ever to meet the breadth of needs a school environment demands without disrupting the learning environment. For example, there are many exterior and classroom door options that offer increased sustainability performance or improved visibility and attack resistance without disrupting the aesthetic flow of the learning environment. These options can provide increased security and peace of mind without hindering the mental health of the students and faculty the doors protect.

While there are many considerations and decisions to be made ahead of the new school year, the good news is that there are a variety of access control solutions on the market to meet every school’s specific needs and ensure a safe return to full-time in-person learning. Learn more about the ESSER Fund on the ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions website.

Ron Baer is the Director Business Development-K12 at ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions