Supporting the High School Experience with ESSR and ARP Funds

Originally published October 2021

As states continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allocated the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Programs (ESSER) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to local education agencies 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 ESSR and ARP funds to programs and initiatives.

Impact on High School Education

The U.S. Department of Education emphasized supporting student populations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic increased challenges and barriers for students including inconsistent access to and engagement in coursework.

Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan

Local education agencies 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. Districts can then build a plan with a broad range of stakeholders as part of the ED STEPS process.
As part of the planning process, local education agencies are encouraged to analyze local data that can help identify strengths and existing gaps in student achievement. Additionally, the local education agency is encouraged to analyze the professional development needs of staff related to any instructional practices, materials or assessments.

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 on-going services, as such service may have to be abruptly terminated when federal funds expire. Rather, the funds should be used for one-time or short-duration intensive supports that address impact of the education disruption due to COVID or that otherwise build the capacity of the system to operate effectively or meaningfully for students. 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, local education agencies should consider the following five questions:
  1. Will the proposed use of funds “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus”?
  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 American Rescue Plan (ARP)? Click here for a broad list of ESSER ARP allowable uses.  
  3. Is the proposed use of funds reasonable and necessary?
  4. Does the proposed use of funds promote equity?
  5. Does the proposed use of funds support returning students to the classroom?


The four years students spend in high school are some of the most important for their path to success. These years are critical in building independent, motivated and empowered learners, ready to experience the world beyond the education system. For decades, high schools throughout the United States have been almost solely structured on lecture-based classroom experiences and the Carnegie unit.
To begin to address coursework access barriers and shed the standard model of education in favor of innovation and a focus on student interest, while also meeting Ohio’s long-term approach to graduation, the State Board of Education, in partnership with the Ohio Department of Education, convened the High School Redesign Task Force. The charge of the Task Force was to study and review information about the high school experience and make recommendations that could support new approaches and designs likely to be more beneficial and meaningful to students. These recommendations can be found in this “Graduation Requirements and High School Redesign Taskforce Report.”

Strategies for Funding Supports for High School Redesign

ESSER and ARP funds should be used broadly to support students. The process of garnering quality feedback, thinking deeply about the fundamental design of the high school experience and then redesigning that experience to create a more inclusive, engaged and post-high school focused experience for students takes time and resources that these funds can be used to provide. This redesign process should include these guiding principles:
  • Commit to a Culture of Continuous Improvement and Feedback: Consistently seek and incorporate student and stakeholder feedback into the redesign work;
  • Engage in Diverse and Persistent Communication: Communicate regularly with students and stakeholders regarding the redesign;
  • Invest in High-Quality Human Capital: Organize the adults that impact students thoughtfully; and
  • Innovate Systems Thinking: Cultivate innovation throughout the teaching and learning process for all students. Engage partners to challenge the status quo.
Through this process, high schools should:
  • Personalize: Recognize the individual needs, differences and interests of every student;
  • Customize: Provide students with intentional options for coursework, aligned to their postsecondary goals;
  • Promote Pathways: Prepare students for success after high school with student-centered and individualized pathways;
  • Build Life Skills: Prepare students for post-high school life by teaching courses on financial literacy, life skills and skills reflected on the OhioMeansJobs Readiness Seal;
  • Focus on Relevance: Make education relevant to real world experiences; and
  • Prioritize Advising: Provide strong career and college advising, including meaningful engagement with students on their academic plan, career plan and financial plan.
Overall, ESSER and ARP funds can be used to address these concepts in a variety of ways, including but not limited to:
  • Supporting “Redesign Planning Time;”
  • Holding townhalls and issuing widespread surveys;
  • Expanding access to coursework and training for students;
  • Developing systemic career and college advising, including meaningful engagement with students on their academic plan, career plan and financial plan;
  • Strengthening partnerships with schools and the community – including with local business partners; and
  • Communicating redesign plans.
As a best practice, local education agencies should coordinate with educational service centers, career-technical planning districts, state support teams, other regional education supports and agencies (including OhioMeansJobs Centers) to identify and streamline, where possible, the supports provided to students and their caregivers.

Additional Resources to Support High School Redesign

Visit the Johns Hopkins University School of Education - Everyone Graduates Center for a recommended redesign framework, including evidence-based practices for schools on the above concepts.
For questions or more information, please contact

Return to Back to School: Resources for Return

Last Modified: 10/29/2021 2:25:12 PM