Supporting Young Learners with ESSER and ARP Funds

Originally published October 2021

As states continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allocated Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Programs (ESSER) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to local education agencies (LEAs) to respond to emergent needs in schools and communities. The following information can serve as a guide for districts, community schools and stakeholders as they make local decisions regarding how to direct ESSER ARP funds to programs and initiatives to address the whole child needs of Ohio’s youngest learners.


Impact on Young Learners

The U.S. Department of Education emphasized supporting vulnerable youth populations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic including, very young children who stayed home instead of attending childcare or preschool programs ahead of kindergarten. Young children have missed opportunities for social and academic learning which have impacted their school readiness and language and literacy development. By strategically investing dollars into early childhood programming (with well-documented Return on Investment), schools will create immediately needed resources that will serve their schools and communities now and for many years to come.


Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan

LEAs are required to submit plans for the use of ESSER ARP funds to the Ohio Department of Education. A first step in the planning process is to identify needs using the One Needs Assessment and then build the plan with a broad range of stakeholders as part of the ED STEPS process. As part of the planning process, LEAs are encouraged to analyze local data to help identify existing gaps in attendance, access to technology, academic performance and behavioral healthcare needs of students of their early learners. Earlier this year, the Ohio Department of Education provided national and state data for preschool through grade three on its Data Insights page, including links to district-specific information.


General Funding Considerations and Practical Advice

The ESSER ARP federal funds are one-time investments that should be managed carefully. These funds generally should not be used to provide ongoing services, as services may be terminated abruptly when federal funds expire. Rather, funds should be used for one-time or short-duration intensive supports that address the impacts of education disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic or that build the capacity of the education system to operate effectively. More information on using ESSER ARP funds may be found in the comprehensive ESSER ARP guidance created by the Ohio Department of Education.

In general, when determining strategies to spend the ESSER I, ESSER II and ESSER ARP funds, LEAs should consider the following five questions:
  1. Will the proposed use of funds prevent, prepare for and respond to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic?
  2. Is the proposed use of funds allowable under the Coronavirus Aid, Resources and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act and/or the ARP? Click here for a broad list of ESSER ARP allowable uses.
  3. Is this program reasonable and necessary?
  4. Does this program promote equity?
  5. Does this program support returning students to the classroom?


Strategies for Funding Supports for Young Learners

In conjunction with the addressing the five questions noted above, the LEA may use ESSER ARP funds broadly to support:


Improvements to Benefit all Children

  • Establish a school-based health center that serves the youngest learners as they begin school with medical, mental health and dental professionals. Vision, hearing and developmental screenings will rule out physical and developmental delays which can impact early learning. By using these dollars to stand up a health center and the one-time equipment costs, the health center becomes sustainable by billing Medicaid and other insurances. See the resources at the Department’s School-Based Health Care Toolkit.
  • Take the opportunity to expand kindergarten availability from part-day to full-day, which will positively impact all students, but especially students in vulnerable populations.
  • Consider moving from an academic year to a year-round calendar for elementary-age students, which can positively impact the learning loss/lag, reduce typical summer slide and increase performance on state tests.
  • Update outdated or worn playground equipment for early learners, with a focus on creative, imaginative and physical play.
  • Add adaptive equipment and/or improve accessibility of playgrounds, remembering the smaller statures of young learners in the planning and adaptations.
    • Plan and create more classrooms for kindergarten students, as 20 percent of students who were age-eligible did not attend this current year. By creating more classrooms, schools will be better equipped to keep younger grades at optimal teacher-student ratios essential for learning.
    • Provide laptops or tablets to all young learners, so they have reliable, relevant and modern technology to enhance connections to educational supports.
    • Install or update facilities to become Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. If needed, consider installing air conditioning or heating, windows, ventilation or air filtration especially in pre-kindergarten (pre-K) classrooms that are in basements or converted spaces.


Expand Ability to Provide Accommodations and Adaptations

  • Update academic, physical and social and emotional adaptations for preschool special education classrooms.
  • Enhance or establish Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programming in pre-K and elementary schools. Build up supports at more intensive levels, if needed.
    • Contribute to or create an online tutoring program which connects highly qualified educators to young children who may need extra supports through the summer or next year. See this example of the Learning Aid Ohio program for students with disabilities.  


Invest in Professional Capacity to Meet Student Needs

  • Purchase professional development for all preschool and early elementary teachers in identifying disabilities, co-teaching and evidence-based practices for supporting students of differing abilities.
    • Purchase the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) professional development series for all pre-K to grade three teachers and school leaders, to ensure they all know and understand the science of reading and how to apply that knowledge to their instructional practices.
    • Sponsor professional development for the childcare/preschool/private kindergarten teachers which feed students to elementary classrooms, so they are aware of early grades curriculum and are building the school readiness for rising kindergarten students.
    • Sponsor training in PBIS to include programming in early childhood settings across the community to maximize the impact and reach of district-wide programming.
    • Provide mental health access for school personnel, including learning opportunities around trauma-informed care and identifying mental health needs of young children. Expand the number of available school counseling personnel so that young learners who have needs, but often lack the language to ask for help, can have access to these supports.


Expand Access for Children with Highest Needs

  • Start a therapeutic interagency program classroom. See this example from Cincinnati.  
    • Expand pre-K programming, with a focus on vulnerable populations to bolster school readiness. Partner with community programs to plan, co-coordinate and operate this programming.
    • Invest in SPARK or other pre-K home visiting engagement for rising kindergarten students through the summer or into the coming year.


Plan for Return-to-School/Summer Opportunities

  • Offer a kindergarten camp where students begin in-person learning two to four weeks before older students. This allows them an opportunity to learn the building, re-engage in in-person schooling and receive assessments and identification of readiness supports.
  • Provide academic supports for math and language arts in the early grades. This could take the form of a two to four-week program that also supports the most vulnerable students by providing them with a safe place for learning meals and even transportation to and from their homes. Partner with a local community before and after-school Program or childcare for space, staffing and extended care.


Sponsor Community Partnership Building

  • Sponsor inter-agency teams, discussions and co-planning to address unique needs of students, including supporting their missed or disrupted learning. The Data Insights Page provides guidance on who should be at the table using fall 2020 enrollment, attendance and assessment performance to support learning.
  • Hire a teacher on special assignment to:
    • (1) establish or improve relationships with community preschool providers in the area whose programs could serve as placements on the least restrictive environment continuum;
    • (2) coordinate itinerant services in community-based programs;
    • (3) expand child finding efforts through direct outreach to community programs; and
    • (4) establish, improve and coordinate transition practices into preschool and from preschool into kindergarten.
Special Note: LEAs should expect significant oversight by state and federal auditors on the spending of their ESSER ARP federal funds. The LEA should have a written explanation of how the expenditure using these ESSER ARP funds was made to prevent, prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that the LEA maintain documentation and be able to provide evidence that demonstrates compliance with the allowable uses of these federal resources.


Resources for Partnering with Families

For questions or more information, please contact us at 1-877-644-6338 or

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Last Modified: 10/29/2021 4:04:31 PM