ESSER and ARP Funds for Prevention Education and Mental Health Supports

Originally published October 2021

To help 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). These funds will help districts and community schools respond to the emergent needs in schools and communities. The U.S. Department of Education emphasized the need to address students’ academic, social and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups.

Impact on Students

Many students were exposed to trauma, disruptions in learning and physical and social isolation which negatively affected their mental, behavioral and emotional health. Underrepresented student subgroups experienced a disproportionate burden of stressors related to the pandemic and may require additional supports and interventions.

To help LEAs, stakeholders and communities make local decisions regarding how to direct ESSER ARP funding, the following information can serve as a guide to address the whole child needs of students.

Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan

As a first step, LEAs should work with a broad range of stakeholders to analyze local data to help identify existing gaps in attendance, access to technology, academic performance and behavioral healthcare needs of students. Identifying needs through the One Needs Assessment is the first step and a critical part of the ED STEPS process.

School districts can also utilize the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ self-assessment tool to assist in identifying student needs. 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. Identifying, understanding and meeting the needs of each child is a first and critical part of ensuring a lifetime of success.

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 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 Prevention Education and Mental Health Supports

In conjunction with the addressing the five questions noted above, the LEA may use ESSER ARP funds broadly to support academic, social and emotional needs of students in underrepresented subgroups.

To address students’ academic, social and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on underrepresented student subgroups, schools may choose to provide prevention services and mental health supports. Examples of prevention services can include social emotional learning, trauma-informed strategies, alcohol and other drug prevention, suicide prevention, bullying prevention, violence prevention and school safety. Based on student needs, prevention services may be universal, selective or indicated. Schools should collaborate as a team to identify the students who may benefit from more targeted or intensive interventions.

Below are examples of how LEAs can direct their funds to develop strategies and implement protocols to effectively maintain the health, wellness and social and emotional needs of students, educators and other staff:

  • Invest in professional development. To best prepare for student challenges, engage staff in professional training opportunities aimed at building capacity of staff to address student, family and community needs. Train educators and related service personnel on the model and tenets of prevention of risky behaviors, including substance use, suicide, bullying and other harmful behaviors. Other targeted topics may include impacts of trauma on learning, regulation strategies for the classroom, culturally responsive practices or integrating social and emotional learning into teaching.
  • Help students and caregivers meet their basic needs including access to meals and hygienic supplies (such as masks or hand sanitizer). Students’ basic physiological and psychological needs must be met before they can fully engage in complex learning and social activities. Expenses needed to enhance school meal service and meal packaging related to the pandemic can be used to help meet student needs. Schools may also consider partnerships with local food banks and other community resources.
  • Support the needs of staff by promoting and funding programs to improve staff wellness, morale and retention. Recognize and acknowledge the impact of secondary trauma on staff and provide professional development to support staff in this area. Assess the needs for mentoring among teachers and connect them with the appropriate support.
  • Contract with community-based providers. Mental health professionals such as social workers and psychologists may be needed to provide additional and more intensive support to students experiencing mental health concerns. Schools can contract for these services through community behavioral health organizations. Create a plan for sustainability with these providers.
  • Invest in tools to help with regulation. Tools like fidgets, flexible seating and dim lighting have been shown to help students regulate intense emotions and increase focus. Consider implementing calm spaces in a classroom or separate sensory room to encourage students and staff to practice self-regulation. Schools would benefit from consulting with outside professionals to help design a safe space that fits students’ needs.
  • Purchase evidence-based prevention programs, curricula or other resources. Evidence-based programs have been shown to be effective as supported by evidence and research. Evidence-based prevention and social emotional learning programs are an effective strategy for reducing risk factors and helping students build resilience and gain skills for success in life. A variety of resources are available to assist LEAs in selecting evidence-based programs, curriculum or other resources. For example, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center includes a database of evidence-based programs. Many programs can be integrated throughout the academic day to help students develop and practice skills. Use data when selecting what programs, curricula or resources best fit the student and staff needs.

School districts should coordinate with local alcohol, drug addiction and mental health services (ADAMHS) boards and educational service centers (ESCs) for assistance in determining student needs and implementing strategies to address students’ social, emotional and behavioral health needs.

Special Note: LEAs should expect significant oversight by state and federal auditors on the spending of their ESSER ARP federal funds. The LEAs 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 LEAs maintain documentation and be able to provide evidence that demonstrates compliance with the allowable uses of these federal resources. 

Additional Resources to Support Students

Last Modified: 10/20/2023 2:21:05 PM