Supporting English Learners 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 English learners

The U.S. Department of Education has emphasized supporting vulnerable youth populations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including students who are English learners. The COVID-19 pandemic increased challenges and barriers for students who are English learners and their families including: inconsistent access to schoolwork and classes due to limited linguistic access and knowledge about the technology needed for virtual instruction; increased disruption to students’ opportunities for English language development; and disparate access to the supplemental education services required by students who are English learners.

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 healthcare needs of language minority 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?


Strategies for Funding Supports for English learners

In conjunction with the addressing the five questions noted above, the LEA may use ESSER and ARP funds broadly to support English learners by targeting improvement in areas that include: language supports, interpreting services, academic content instruction and assessment, access to technology, resources for preschoolers, wrap-around services, and culturally informed school-based healthcare.

Schools and districts can also utilize relief funding to address learning loss that may have been experienced by culturally and linguistically diverse students because of the disruptions due to COVID-19. Accordingly, the needs and well-being of students who are current or reclassified English learners should be considered. Below are examples of how LEAs can direct their funds to address support English learners and their families:

  • Invest in English learner programs and language assessments that utilize the Ohio English Language Proficiency Standards and complement the application of tiered systems of academic interventions.
    • Strengthen general education classroom instruction to include differentiation and evidence-based instruction strategies of students who are current or recently reclassified English learners.
    • Utilize local and regional networks to provide professional learning and coaching to improve the outcomes of English learners. Include all educators of English learners, including those who work in pre-kindergarten to grade 3, secondary and career technical education programs.
  • Provide two-way language assistance and communication supports for students and multilingual families for school-related information, including surveys, schedules, and instructional methods.
    • Provide time for staff and stakeholders to meet to identify gaps and priorities to welcome and engage newcomer families in school activities that help their children succeed in school. LEAs can take steps to strengthen and empower parents who also must navigate English as a new or additional language.
    • Ensure that the academic and language support needs of students and families are part of remote learning initiatives.
    • Provide linguistic assistance to allow parents and families who have limited English proficiency to navigate technology.
    • Work with community partners to nurture positive relationships and build resources for culturally and linguistically diverse parents and families, providing, for example, information about how to select programs and engage with their school.
  • Provide targeted academic supports based upon monitoring and assessment of current and reclassified English learners. Academic supports may include:
    • After-school or summer learning opportunities, extension programs and tutoring designed to address individualized needs of English learners.
    • Academic supports should be evidence-based and delivered as direct instruction using curricula and materials that are effective for English learners. They should provide evidence of remediating and accelerating student learning in the areas of language and literacy and core content areas to minimize negative impacts of pandemic-related learning disruptions.
    • Academic supports for English learners may consider the Ohio English language proficiency standards as tools for gauging the language levels of English learners.
  • Purchase technology (including laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots or tablets) that enable students to have continued access to instruction both at school and home.
  • Provide language supports and instructional resources for young dual language learners through language experiences that build upon home languages and cultures.
    • Support professional learning that increases the capacity of early learning teachers and paraprofessionals to recognize and develop the linguistic and cultural assets of young children beginning school. Coordinate professional learning using face-to-face, hybrid and online formats to address the needs of early learning educators.
    • Implement coaching of evidence-based instructional strategies for language and literacy development and providing support to young dual language learners’ transitions from preschool to kindergarten.
  • Identify and provide resources that recognize the home languages and cultures of students. This includes:
    • Enhance the language and literacy development of English learners by providing parent resources in languages other than English.
    • Identify and select quality instructional materials that reflect families in the community.
    • Promote information in the languages of students and families that encourage multilingualism for example, providing guidance about pathways to receive the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy to educators and adolescents.
  • Invest in creating partnerships that can facilitate meeting mental health and behavioral needs. An example can include identifying and partnering with multilingual community mental health providers to support students virtually or on-site at school that can be billed to Medicaid or third-party payers.
  • Make short term investments that strengthen the coordination of services with other local systems of care including but not limited to:
    • Provide English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, multilingual and multicultural supports to students and families working with juvenile and immigration courts, child welfare agencies, healthcare providers, and housing entities.
    • Form new partnerships and identify mechanisms that allow for collaborative service provision that can continue once one-time funds are no longer available.

As best practice, LEAs should coordinate with local community organizations to identify and streamline, where possible, the supports provided to refugees and vulnerable English learners and their families. As always, intentional coordination between educational agencies and child welfare agencies remains essential to supporting English learners and their parents and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 coronavirus. 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 Students who are English Learners

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Last Modified: 8/29/2023 4:07:30 PM