What Do Families and Parents Need to Know (And Do) About ARP ESSER

Learn about this historic federal investment in public education and find out how you can get involved today.

By Hana Beach

You may not know it, but public education is at an inflection point. On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law and enacted a historic investment in America’s public education. ARP’s Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding is the largest investment in schools ever made by the federal government. This funding represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create meaningful and lasting change in public education. More importantly, the majority of the funding is going directly to schools and districts. That means everyone—educators, students, policymakers, and families—has the opportunity to dream of an education system with greater fairness for all, academically rigorous learning that prepares students for life and career, and effective solutions that build upon what works in student-centered education while leaving behind what does not. 

However, policy discussions can be exclusive and elusive and can often leave out the insights of the groups who sit at the center. In the case of ESSER funding, students, families, and educators need to be a part of meaningful discussions on how to spend the funding to make the greatest impact for our students today and the students of tomorrow. Families, in particular, may have a hard time navigating the policy discussions around ESSER and may not know how or where they can impact this historic funding. XQ is here to help. We’ve created tools, resources, and recommendations to help families participate in rethinking high school—now, let’s get to it! 

[To learn more about ARP and ESSER funding and how it can transform high school today for the students of tomorrow, check out XQ’s overview here.]

How Much Funding is Your State Getting? 

The local focus of this funding gives communities, parents, and families direct opportunity to participate in making efficient and effective high schools a reality. To make clear how much money is going to each state, XQ created an interactive map that highlights the exact funding that will be coming to the state. 

What ARP ESSER Funding Means for Your Local School 

As we mentioned already, ARP ESSER funding is a historic investment in American public education. It is the third stimulus relief package intended to address the economic impact of COVID-19 on states, municipalities, and individuals nationwide. What makes ARP different is the inclusion of an unprecedented $123 billion for K–12 education—more than 25 times the amount in the Obama-era Race to the Top initiative—through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. Funding will be provided to states using the Title I funding formula.

What Can ARP ESSER Funds Be Used For?

The vast majority of states’ K–12 education funding—90 percent, or $109 billion in total—must be allocated directly to local school districts. States hold onto the remaining 10 percent of funding for state-level education needs, including the implementation of evidence-based learning acceleration practices and programs. But states have great flexibility in how to use their allocations, so long as the funds are spent by 2024. Here is where the most important decisions for our nation’s students must be made.

How XQ Recommends Allocating ARP ESSER Funds To Rethink High School  

You may be wondering what it would look like if this funding was used to rethink high school. Well, XQ has spent time thinking about just that. We outlined policy recommendations and ideas to make sure that we use this historic opportunity to build high schools today that set our students up for success in tomorrow’s economy: 

Prioritize proportional funding. It’s imperative that high school is not forgotten during this moment. We need to dedicate at least an amount proportionate to high school enrollment—approximately 30 percent of ARP ESSER dollars, depending on your state—to long-term high school transformation. 

Invest in infrastructure. ARP ESSER funding is an opportunity to build the educational spaces and resources we have always envisioned for young people. Visionary infrastructure spending includes building technology, curriculum, and facilities that are constantly improving and are hyper-resilient toward the challenges and changes specifically facing your community in the future.

Empower communities to reimagine high school. The Department of Education requires states to seek community input from education stakeholders, such as families, educators, and students, for the use of ARP funds. That being said, as families you can be deliberate about setting a vision for high school design and redesign and challenge—and empower—local communities to take the lead in reimagining their high schools. Reach out to your local school board and ask to be a part of the discussion. 

Redesign the daily learning experience. ARP ESSER funds provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake the high school experience into one that is rigorous, equitable, and that gives students ownership of their own learning. We believe that this means investments in competency-based education, where students progress and earn credits by demonstrating genuine comprehension rather than by fulfilling time and minimum classwork requirements. 

Prepare students for life after graduation. At this moment, we have to do everything we can to make sure that high school diplomas are meaningful. The route to earning a diploma is too often unengaging, uninspiring, and unchallenging. Too often, it’s about getting it done, when it should be about getting it right. State leaders and local districts can and must change that outcome. High schools need to become engines of continuous improvement that meet the demands of their students, so that students graduate with true preparation for real life.

[Learn more about ESSER funding to rethink high school.]

How You Can Shape ARP ESSER Funds

It is easy to feel that individual actions cannot lead to systemic change or that you are a single voice in an ocean of opinions. But, we know that families need to be a part of critical decisions around education and that they can provide important insight on how ARP ESSER funding will be spent—especially as states, districts, and schools will decide what this funding looks like in their jurisdictions. 

[Find out how much your state is getting with this interactive map.]

The easiest and best way for families and parents to participate in these once-in-a-lifetime decisions is through their local school board. School boards are local boards and authorities responsible for the education of a community’s young people, ensuring all students have access to a high-quality, rigorous education that prepares them for college, career, and life. They base their decisions on input from the superintendent, families, teachers, students, and the general public. The input from families and community members can come through a variety of avenues—writing a letter, attending a school board meeting, or running for a seat on the school board

[Want to learn more about school boards, read XQ’s article on school boards here.] 

Over the coming months, we have the opportunity to inspire transformational and meaningful change. And, this change cannot happen without the support of parents, families, and communities across the country. Get involved today—talk to your friends, community leaders, and school board members and demand the education America’s young people deserve. 

Start that work by emailing your local school board or attend a local school board meeting. XQ’s School Board Lookup Tool is a great place to start: https://xqsuperschool.org/school-board-lookup

Questions Families Can Ask About the American Rescue Plan’s ESSER Funding

Here are a few questions to ask your local school board to make sure that high schools are not overlooked during questions about ESSER funding. 

  • How much funding is our local district receiving as part of the ARP ESSER funding? How much money do you expect to spend on high school? 
  • What do we have an opportunity to do now to improve our high schools that has never been possible before?  How can we make sure this funding creates lasting change? 
  • What will we be spending right now, and what are the plans for the full 3 years we have to spend ESSER funds?
  • What do students say they want out of our high schools? What about families? How are you seeking out their viewpoints and participation?
  • How do you plan to spend this money to make sure our students are prepared for success in college and career? 
  • Do you have plans to invest this money in our school’s infrastructure? 
  • How can I participate in district planning around the ARP ESSER funding? What avenues are available to me to help plan, design, and implement the lasting changes my family wants to see in our community’s high schools? 

Access our full set of recommendations, find out how much money your state should allocate to high schools, hear from students, and learn more: ChooseHighSchoolNow.com