Supporting Student Wellness with ESSER and ARP Funds

Originally published October 2021

As states continue to navigate 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 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 Wellness

Providing a safe and healthy school environment during the pandemic is a high priority for both the U.S. Department of Education and Ohio Department of Education. The indirect effects from a strained healthcare system, decreased access to healthy foods and mental and emotional stressors of this pandemic have the potential of stretching into the future. Children remain at risk for illness during the COVID-19 pandemic and children with preexisting medical conditions may need extra supports to keep them healthy and safe due to their increased risk of complications from infection. Planning services that meet the needs of the whole child is more important now than ever, especially for vulnerable populations of students who are more likely to suffer from trauma, less likely to see a physician and more likely to stay in a remote learning environment during the pandemic.

Identifying the Needs and Building the Plan

LEAs are required to submit plans for the use of ARP ESSER funds to the Ohio Department of Education. A first step in the planning process is to identify needs using the One Needs Assessment and then 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 physical and behavioral healthcare needs of students.

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 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. 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 American Rescue Plan (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 Supports for Students

In conjunction with the addressing the five questions noted above, the local education agency may use ESSER ARP funds broadly to support students’ health and safety needs. Educational stability, environmentally safe schools, easy access to healthy foods and school-based healthcare are critical to the overall well-being of students. Below are examples of how LEAs can direct their funds to address the additional needs of students:

  • Purchase equipment and supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) for school staff, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and indoor air quality supports such as vacuums and air purifiers.
  • Purchase technology, such as laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, telemedicine carts and electronic medical records systems. Electronic medical records systems specific for schools will enable school nurses, coaches and athletic trainers to manage students’ health in a more timely and efficient way. These systems often provide secured exchange of medical information between schools, health departments and physicians’ offices.
  • COVID testing. Purchase COVID-19 testing supplies. 
  • Assess indoor air quality and upgrade ventilation systems to bring in outside air and exhaust building air. This will dilute the concentration of indoor pollutants. Indoor air quality management practices can help to reduce the spread of viruses and other infectious diseases, as well as help improve health of students with chronic health conditions such as asthma.
  • Make modifications to physical space. Renovations such as enlarging classrooms to allow for better social distancing, adding operable windows, installing water bottle filling stations in place of water fountains and modifying bathrooms to include exhaust above toilets and lower partitions to the floor to decrease virus particles from moving from one stall to another.
  • Offer additional nutrition programs, such as Summer Food Service programs, backpack programs or fresh fruit and vegetable programs.
  • Help students and caregivers meet their basic needs, including access to meals and hygienic supplies (such as masks or hand sanitizer).
    • Partner with local medical and service agencies to establish a community resource center where individuals and families can access necessities such as: healthy foods, personal care items, clothing and assistance with applying for benefits and medical care.
  • Invest in creating partnerships and relationships that can facilitate meeting physical health, mental health and behavioral health needs. Examples can include:
    • Identifying and partnering with community mental health providers to support students virtually or on-site at school that can be billed to Medicaid or third-party payers.
    • Identify and partner with local providers who can provide onsite medical services such as vaccination clinics, well child exams, dental screenings or sports physicals.  
    • Identify and partner with community providers who can provide telemedicine services.

As a best practice, LEAs should coordinate with local child welfare agencies, local health departments, local mental health providers and other community partners to identify and streamline, where possible, the supports provided to students and their caregivers.

Special Note: LEAs should expect significant oversight by state and federal auditors on the spending of their ESSER ARP federal funds. The local education agency 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 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

Guidance Documents

Improving Ventilation Systems

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Helpful Websites

For questions or more information, please contact  

Last Modified: 6/4/2024 2:45:25 PM