Supporting Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports with ESSER and ARP Funds


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 to address the whole child needs of all students through Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). 

Impact on Students 

The U.S. Department of Education emphasized addressing learning loss through the implementation of evidenced-based interventions and supports, and ensuring those interventions respond to students’ social, emotional, mental health and academic needs and addressing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on all student groups, including underrepresented student subgroups. The U.S. Department of Education supports implementing PBIS designed to strengthen relationships, nurture students’ social-emotional development and ease the transition back to school. 

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. 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, LEAs are encouraged to analyze local data to help identify existing needs of all students.  

School districts can also utilize additional tools such school climate surveys. The Ohio Healthy Youth Environments Survey (OHYES!) is a free, voluntary, web-based survey used to collect student health and wellness information which can be used to assess student needs. 

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 COVID-19 pandemic or that build the capacity of the education system to operate effectively or meaningfully for students. More information on using these 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 ARP ESSER 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 ESSER ARP allowable uses.
  3. Is it reasonable and necessary? 
  4. Does it promote equity? 
  5. Does it support returning students to the classroom? 

Strategies for Funding Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports 

In conjunction with addressing the five questions noted above, the LEA may use ESSER ARP funds broadly to support all students through PBIS. Implementing curricula and supports to strengthen student social and emotional skills, providing professional learning opportunities, developing systems for referral, investing in partnerships that provide behavioral supports, improving data collection and providing guidance and tools for PBIS are critical to the overall well-being of all students. Expanding upon PBIS for the virtual environment can provide needed supports for staff, students and families to make remote learning safe, predictable and positive. Below are examples of how LEAs can direct their funds to address the additional needs of all students through PBIS:  

  • Implement curricula and supports that fit in the school and district’s PBIS framework and are designed to support student behavioral needs, strengthen relationships, nurture social and emotional development and ease the transition back to schools. Use data to make decisions and selection of evidence-based practices from the What Works Clearinghouse.  
  • Provide professional development opportunities aimed at building the capacity of staff to address student, family and community needs and ensure the implementation of PBIS practices that are culturally responsive and trauma informed. Ensure all staff in the building have PBIS training and invest in coaching opportunities to sustain and expend PBIS. School and district staff can contact their local Educational Service Center or State Support Team for professional development and training needs. 
  • Recognize whole child needs and help students and caregivers meet their basic needs including referrals for access to meals, housing and hygienic supplies. Funds could be used to increase the staff capacity and cover additional labor costs associated with serving meals to students during the pandemic or for supporting student and staff wellness to help meet whole child needs and provide supports for staff. Provide opportunities to inform staff of district policies and procedures around safety.  
  • Support the alignment of other initiatives into the PBIS Framework at Tier 1. Survey students, staff and families on the needs of the district and all students. Once needs are identified, use funding on programs, supports or curricula to align those needs to the PBIS framework. Social and emotional learning, prevention education, trauma-informed practices or mental health may be among those identified. The Department’s website has topics and resources available to explore these topics further. Contact the local Educational Service CenterState Support Team or County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board for opportunities that are available locally. 
  • Re-establish building or district-wide expectations as if launching PBIS for the first time. Host PBIS events safely or provide opportunities that involve students, staff, family and community partners and establish or re-establish students and staff of behavioral expectations and other universal interventions at your school or district. Make the event and opportunities engaging and interactive.  
  • Support systems to provide supports for students with Tier 2 and Tier 3 needs and seamlessly refer students to necessary services. Use funds to train staff on the use of referral systems and link with community partners to create and implement the referral process. Support crisis response needs including expanding school nursing or counseling resources and facilities and grief and crisis response. 
  • Invest in partnering with community organizations to best support students that can facilitate meeting mental health and behavioral needs, such as counseling and prevention programs. An increased awareness of and access to community mental health supports will help ensure tiered interventions and services are available for all students. Utilize funds to purchase prevention and mental health services that are not covered through insurance or Medicaid. Create a sustainability plan for these supports to continue past the time of available funding. 
  • Improve data collection and systems to support PBIS and multi-tiered system of supports for all students. Encourage staff to regularly review data in teams by providing stipends for staff beyond contract hours. Purchase or improve upon current data dashboards that include collection of PBIS implementation and climate and social and emotional learning surveys and disaggregated to the greatest extent possible by race/ethnicity, economic status, English learner status, disability status, homelessness status and other factors that increase equity. Funds can be used to purchase to improve upon PBIS systems and new data management platforms such as PBISApps: PBIS Assessment, PBIS Evaluator and SWIS Suite. 
  • Use funds to provide guidance and tools to determine knowledge and skills gaps that impact successful implementation of PBIS and multi-tiered system of supports. Provide resources and tools to improve local training and coaching capacity with guidance for more focused and more frequent opportunities for educators who require greater support. Establish or re-establish a training and coaching plan and evaluation plan to support implementation of key practices, including professional development goals, flexible training methods and flexible coaching approaches. Improve upon tiered supports (Tiers 1, 2 and 3) that meet the needs of individual students. 

As best practice, LEAs should coordinate with State Support Teams, Educational Service Centers, local health service providers and community partners, where possible, to provide supports to staff, students and their caregivers. As always, intentional coordination between all agencies remains essential to supporting all students through PBIS 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 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 PBIS for All Students  

  • National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments webpage contains information on providing safe and supportive learning environments, including addressing student and educator mental health. 
  • Center on PBIS Website hosts information on improving school climate and school safely through the implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports. 
  • ED COVID-19 Handbook (Volume 2) from the U.S. Department of Education contains resources for effective strategies to support student learning; evidence-based approaches to stabilizing the educator workforce; purposeful strategies to re-engage disconnected youth violence reduction programs, mentorship, and strengthening youth skills through workforce engagement and training; parent training and family literacy services in the use of early learning strategies that bring in the child’s environment and experiences to promote literacy skills; and evidence-based summer learning and enrichment programs. 
  • Governor's Emergency Education Relief Programs Frequently Asked Questions document answers frequently asked questions about how funding under the ESSER Fund, including the ARP program, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund may be used in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students in pre-K–12 education. 
  • Supporting Student Wellness with ESSER Funds website from the Ohio Department of Education 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 provide a safe and healthy school environment during the pandemic. 

For questions or more information, please contact  

Return to Back to School: Resources for Return

Last Modified: 8/17/2022 10:19:04 AM