How Schools Can Maximize COVID Relief Funds

A little strategic thinking is all it takes to stretch your school’s relief funds.

When the third pandemic stimulus bill (dubbed the American Rescue Plan) was signed into law, it provided public school districts across the country a whopping $122 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (or ESSER III) funds. Another $2.75 billion, labeled Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (or EANS) funds, was set aside for non-public schools, as well.

ESSER and EANS funds are designed to help schools reopen quickly and safely, as well as address the months of significant learning loss by U.S. students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

person using calculator across from someone using a computer 


Only now are experts beginning to understand the full scope of learning loss brought on by a year-plus of the pandemic – and initial reports are worrying. An October 2020 McKinsey & Company report, for example, revealed that U.S. students are at least 1.5 months behind in reading and 3 months behind in math.

Schools can use their funds to remediate learning loss in several ways, including:

  • Investing in furniture and equipment to keep teachers, students and staff safe and/or distanced during in-person instruction.
  • Purchasing educational technology and remote learning tools, including hardware, software and connectivity to support student learning.
  • Hiring additional educators and support staff.

Ultimately, it is up to each school to determine what interventions are best.

Using Funds in Specific School Spaces

To make the most out of your school’s emergency relief funds, it’s best to think strategically about each space.

In classrooms, for example, opt for mobile and/or single-student desks to allow for social distancing and reconfiguration possibilities. Tabletop screens are inexpensive and may protect students from airborne bacteria, while mobile whiteboards can double as room partitions for group separation.

Consider transforming unused outdoor spaces into classrooms to account for an increase in outdoor activities and dining. New picnic tables, benches and portable outdoor sinks can make a previously unused outdoor space instantly ready for learning.

In labs and makerspaces, think mobile bin shelving to keep lab supplies for each student separate, or even mobile workstations to allow greater social distancing. Sanitation equipment like germicidal cabinets makes it quick and easy to sterilize shared lab supplies.

In early learning classrooms, opt for antimicrobial rugs, which inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. Preschool room dividers can act as both play panels and social dividers.

In main entryways or common areas, invest in crowd control stanchions to direct the flow of traffic more safely, as well as health and safety signage to encourage social distancing and hand-washing. Spaced-out, single-person lounge chairs can keep users comfortable yet distanced.

Study carrels can double as social barriers in libraries or media centers, while additional tech areas can function as before- or after-school workspaces. Choose modular soft seating sets that can be easily reconfigured for social distancing.

In cafeterias or “overflow” areas, new folding cafeteria tables, new café furniture and/or booth seating allow for dining and tutoring while maintaining social distance. Don’t forget additional waste receptables to accommodate the increase of pre-packaged meals.

Pro tip: Consider the use of UV wands in any learning space to disinfect virtually any surface in seconds without the use of harsh chemicals. UV wands are lightweight, portable and ideal for high traffic areas.

Choosing a Vendor You Trust

Choosing a school furniture supplier for your relief funds project can feel like a daunting task, but it’s worth the time and effort to pick the vendor who best fits your needs. A good supplier won’t just sell you furniture; they’ll guide you through the entire purchasing process, from research and pricing to delivery and installation.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

Choose a vendor who can offer a wide selection of reliable products at multiple price points—and, ideally, purchasing programs like co-ops and contracts. This will save you time and money.

Pick a supplier who will not only understand the vision for your space but also help plan it. Can they design layouts, choose products that meet your needs and offer CAD drawings to show you what the space will look like? Your supplier should be able to offer multiple quotes for different tiers of layouts.

In some ways, choosing a supplier will be the most important decision you make – pick the right one, and it’ll feel like they’re doing the hard work for you, culminating in a learning environment you love.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

As Vice President of Sales at School Outfitters, Angela Hall works closely with customers, listening to their needs and finding custom solutions. To find out how School Outfitters can create beautiful, functional spaces that fit your budget, call 800-260-2776 or email [email protected].