How to use stimulus funding to shift to the Science of Reading

ESSER funds are still available—and they offer a perfect opportunity to invest in the Science of Reading. We’re here to show you how to use them.

By Amplify Staff | June 12, 2023

After a few strange years, it may finally feel like school’s gone back to normal—but there are still billions of dollars in ESSER stimulus funds available to address the educational ripple effects of the pandemic.

Educators still have a unique opportunity to invest in schools—and students—by transitioning to a curriculum based on the Science of Reading.

“As we think about making investments and prioritizing our literacy programs, we want to make sure that we’re shifting…to more evidence-based practices,” says Susan Lambert, chief academic officer of elementary education, in our webinar Using ESSER Funding to Invest in a True Science of Reading Ecosystem.

The Science of Reading offers exactly that. And we know that approaches based on the Science of Reading have the capacity to teach every student to read.

So let’s review what these education funds are, how they can (and can’t) be used, and how you can deploy them to implement the Science of Reading.

Understanding ESSER education funds

ESSER stimulus funds were part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and were dispensed in three rounds, with the third and most recent round (ESSER III) offering the largest amount at $122 billion. All three rounds of ESSER funds supported ongoing education needs both during the pandemic and as we’ve come out of it.

ESSER III funding helps schools address the impact of COVID-19 and foster educational equity. These funds are distributed to state educational agencies and then allocated to local educational agencies based on a formula that weighs student enrollment and poverty rates.

Each of the three pots of ESSER funds must be obligated (assigned to a spending category) by a certain date.

  • ESSER I had a deadline of September 30, 2022.
  • ESSER II must be obligated by September 30, 2023.
  • ESSER III must be obligated by September 30, 2024.

Additionally, districts have 120 days after the obligation date to liquidate these funds (pay them to contracted vendors).

Using ESSER funds to invest in the Science of Reading

ESSER funds are flexible and offer a variety of opportunities for schools to enhance teaching and learning. While some specific guidelines may vary state by state, there are some allowable uses that broadly align with the aims and impacts of the Science of Reading:

  1. Implementing evidence-based interventions. ESSER funds can be used to invest in evidence-based practices and programs that align with the principles of the Science of Reading. These could include high-quality instructional materials, professional development for teachers, and specialized training to address the specific needs of struggling readers.
  2. Technology and infrastructure. ESSER funds can support the procurement of educational technology tools, software, and hardware that facilitates instruction based on the Science of Reading.
  3. Professional development. ESSER funds can be utilized to provide educators with targeted professional development opportunities focused on the Science of Reading. This investment can help build teachers’ knowledge and skills, enabling them to implement evidence-based instructional strategies effectively.
  4. Addressing learning loss among at-risk students, including summer learning and after-school summer programs. In fact, at least 20% of districts’ ESSER III funds must be spent on addressing learning loss.

Generally, ESSER funds are extremely flexible and are meant to be used by states, districts, and schools to cover their particular needs. However, these funds cannot be used to replace existing funding sources.

Specific ways ESSER funds can support the Science of Reading

Here are some ways that educators might use ESSER funds to support the transition to a Science of Reading curriculum:

  1. Assess needs and develop a plan. Begin by assessing your school’s specific needs in terms of Science of Reading instruction. Identify areas that require improvement and establish clear goals for your ESSER-funded initiatives.
  2. Research evidence-based programs and materials. Explore research-backed programs and instructional materials aligned with the Science of Reading.
  3. Invest in professional development. Allocate a portion of your ESSER funds to ensure teachers are prepared to support the transition to and implementation based on the Science of Reading.
  4. Upgrade technology and resources. Invest in digital resources and assessments you’ll need to support instruction informed by the Science of Reading.
  5. Monitor progress and adjust strategies. Use feedback from teachers, students, and families to guide your decision-making and implementation process.
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