Understanding ESSER Funds
The availability of ESSER funds has been a hot topic in education recently, but it can also be confusing. Understanding what exactly the funding is, where it comes from, who can use it, and what it can be used for can be difficult to parse out. The problem is, that schools and districts could potentially be leaving big money and subsequently missing out on opportunities to fund critical projects if they do not have a thorough understanding of how the funding works and how they can take advantage of it.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds (ESSER) have been made available through three bills, including the CARES Act and the American Recovery Plan. While funding has been released in stages over the past few years, schools and districts should be concerned about the third round of funding, also known as ESSER III which is currently available. The funding must be obligated by September 2024, which means there is a ticking clock to use that funding or lose it.
If you’re like most schools, these funds could help address a number of challenges, but guidance for what qualifies for ESSER funding specifically calls out projects that create a positive school climate. This includes solutions that can help create a safe learning environment for students and staff. Mass notification systems are uniquely suited for this qualification while only using a small amount of the available funding, leaving schools with plenty of options for tackling other projects. In this blog post, we’ll outline why mass notification systems qualify for ESSER funds, potential issues and solutions for securing ESSER III funds for mass notification, and tips for writing a strong funding application.
Why Mass Notification Fits “Allowable Use”
The federal government provided guidance through the U.S. Department of Education on how state and local education agencies (school districts) should use ESSER funds. Recognizing that school districts have unique needs, the guidance provided wide flexibility on how funds could be spent, as long as it goes to promoting a positive school climate. This is further defined as “A positive school climate is the product of a school’s attention to fostering safety; promoting a supportive academic, disciplinary, and physical environment…”
Under this guidance, we see mass notification systems as playing a significant role in promoting a positive school climate by addressing several key safety concerns. These include:
- Student safety: Mass notification systems enable schools and districts to deliver text, audio, and visual messages throughout school buildings to keep students informed about incidents that impact their safety. Mass notification tools also offer several options for detecting threats, giving schools an edge in protecting students and starting crucial processes like lockdowns, evacuations, or medical emergencies.
- Parental concerns: Having a mass notification system in place can put parents at ease knowing schools are able to communicate effectively with students in the event of a crisis. Some mass notification solutions also offer the ability to directly communicate with parents about issues at a school and provide tools to facilitate speedy family reunification following a critical event.
- Teacher safety: Teachers who do not feel safe in their school may be more likely to leave. Having a mass notification system that offers multiple panic options teachers can leverage in their classrooms or throughout a school building to immediately request help when an incident arises can help them feel confident that their safety is being prioritized.
- Learning loss and mental health: When teachers and students don’t feel safe, it can make it very difficult to teach and learn. A reliable mass notification system can reduce classroom anxiety enabling teachers and students to focus on learning.
Mass notification, combined with other hardware devices, can help create a secure learning environment throughout a school and district helping to build a positive school climate. You find a comprehensive list of school security products here.
Identifying Potential Issues (and Solutions)
Even with a strong understanding of what qualifies for funding and knowing that funding is available, schools and districts can still struggle to secure the funds they need to enact their safety projects. In conversations with schools and districts, we’ve identified several issues and options for how to overcome them.
Problem: You (or other district officials) are not aware of receiving any ESSER funds, or believe that funds have already been allocated.
Solution: Many districts are unaware of the third round of ESSER funding. Ask your superintendent and comptroller about ESSER III funds that may be available to help with the purchase of a mass notification system
Problem: Your district may think that mass notification does not qualify as allowable use for ESSER funds.
Solution: Guidance for ESSER funding is intentionally broad to give districts flexibility in selecting projects that help them achieve a positive school climate. Because safety is a critical component of creating that positive climate, mass notification qualifies as allowable use for these funds.
Problem: Some districts may be prioritizing other facility improvements to address their goal of creating a positive school climate, restricting your ability to access funds for a mass notification system.
Solution: Highlight school safety statistics, what parents want to see your school or district prioritizing, and the fact that an investment in mass notification is only a fraction of other large-scale projects.
This is just a selection of common hurdles we hear from schools. There may be other obstacles you encounter, but having the right information and asking the right questions can help overcome objections to help secure your funding.
Consider InformaCast and Visitor Aware for ESSER Funds
Singlewire Software is keenly aware of the opportunities schools and districts have before them to take major strides in enhancing safety with ESSER funds. Our InformaCast mass notification software and Visitor Aware visitor management solution are uniquely suited to qualify for this funding and help your district detect threats, notify all teachers and staff, and manage incidents from start to finish. With these solutions in place, you’ll be able to implement an operational strategy to keep your students, teachers, and staff safe from the growing number of threats that can disrupt your daily activities and put your people at risk.
Our team would be happy to answer any questions you may have, show you how our solutions can aid you in achieving your safety goals, and even help identify how much funding your school or district has available with ESSER III. Please visit our Schools & Districts page for more information about our solutions and contact our team for more details about ESSER III funding.