Supporting Student Attendance with ESSER and ARP Funds

Originally published October 2021

As states continue navigating 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 the 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.


Impact on Student Attendance

The U.S. Department of Education emphasized supporting vulnerable youth populations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a notable increase in chronic absences (defined missing 10 percent or more of excused or unexcused time not engaged in education activity). As is the typical pattern for chronic absenteeism, Ohio’s historically underserved and vulnerable students and students in urban areas, experienced higher rates of chronic absenteeism than their peers.


Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan

LEAs are required to submit plans for the use of ESSER ARP funds. A first step in the planning process is to identify needs through the One Needs Assessment and 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.  


General Funding Considerations and Practical Advice

The ESSER ARP 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 to assist LEAs and other stakeholders in meeting the requirements of the federal acts authorizing these emergency federal resources and best practices for leveraging the funds.

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 this an allowable use of funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) or ARP? Click here for a broad list of ARP ESSER Uses of Funds.
  3. Is this program reasonable and necessary?
  4. Does this program promote equity?
  5. Does this program support returning students to the classroom?
LEAs should ensure they have access to accurate and timely data and resources needed to design and implement meaningful interventions for regular student attendance. Absenteeism not only impacts academic progress but can also impact social emotional learning. Reviewing data to understand which students are chronically absent and those identified as “at risk” of becoming chronically absent is a critical first step to getting students to school. Root causes to student absenteeism may include housing instability, transportation, safety to and from school, mental or physical health and childcare concerns. After reviewing data to understand which students face barriers to getting to school regularly, convening a team of diverse perspectives, including but not limited to, students and families, instruction, student supports, family engagement, data management, special education and Title I can help align attendance supports. Effective teams also include representatives from community partners, including but not limited to, early childhood providers, health providers and other nonprofit and business partners. Attendance teams should reflect the student demographics of the LEA. Attendance teams review attendance data to determine which students were most impacted from the pandemic and how to utilize community resources to support students and families.

Strategies for Funding Supports for Attendance

In conjunction with addressing the five questions noted above, the LEA may use ESSER ARP funds broadly to support student attendance initiatives. It is important the LEA can support student attendance and engagementt by working with students, families and community partners to support student attendance and the engagement of in-person education (including alternative school and Innovative Education Pilot Program options), credit flexibility and blended learning. The LEA should partner with families and connect with community resources to identify approaches that accommodate the unique situations of each student. The LEA should continuously review student attendance data using the Stay in the Game! Network’s guide for educators to determine progress and challenges faced while overcoming attendance barriers.

Below are examples of how LEAs can direct their funds to address the additional needs of student attendance:
  • Implement programs to support Tier II attendance interventions for students who need additional support to avoid chronic absences. Tier II supports include but are not limited to mentoring, home visits with the student and family and tailored physical and mental health supports.
  • Promoting Safe Routes to School for all students to their respective schools. LEAs can collaborate with families and community partners to identify the safest route to school. Local businesses and other community entities can be identified as “safe student locations” where students can go to if they are not feeling safe or wish to report an unsafe situation. LEAs can also collaborate with transportation entities to ensure that all eligible students have consistent access to transportation to and from their school.
  • Purchase technology (including laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots or tablets) that enable students to have continued access to instruction both at school and home. LEAs can also provide training to families and caregivers on how to use the technology while away from school. Technology investments have long-term benefits including providing additional academic opportunities for students and helping families communicate with their child’s school.
  • Invest in professional development on using attendance data to target and align evidence-based, multi-tiered interventions to mitigate the impacts of chronic absenteeism on academic and social-emotional wellbeing of students.
  • Provide intensive (short-term) academic supports and prioritize students identified as chronically absent—including summer learning opportunities, learning extension programs, tutoring and other instructional support.
  • Help students and/or caregivers meet their basic needs. Students who come to school without supplies or adequate basic needs often are subjected to bullying and embarrassment. Providing students with hygiene kits, clothing, access to a clothes washer/dryer and needed school supplies could help increase student attendance. 
  • Make short-term investments that strengthen the coordination of services with other local systems of care including but not limited to juvenile courts, child welfare agencies, healthcare providers and housing entities to reduce student absences. Form new partnerships and identify mechanisms that allow for collaborative service provision that can continue once one-time funds are no longer available. 
  • Enhancing communication to students, families and community partners using multiple forms of communication tools. Purchase new technology that increases effective and timely communication to families, including robocall, text messages and internet-based communication methods. Information should be translated for families that are non-English speaking.
  • Participate in a Stay in the Game! District/School Attendance Campaign by hosting community activities and learning nights for families that incorporate messaging and supports for attendance. Celebrate attendance with promotional materials through social media, local news and radio stations and print outlets.
  • Develop or strengthen community partnerships to support attendance initiatives and goals. Helping students and their families access community resources will enhance school-based services and allow for the collaborative planning of innovative and sustainable opportunities to support students during the school year. Districts and schools could identify partnerships with faith-based groups, city and county officials, housing authorities, health care providers and business leaders.
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.

Additional Resources to Support Regular Student Attendance

For questions or more information, please contact

Return to Back to School: Resources for Return

Last Modified: 10/29/2021 2:16:31 PM