Frequently asked questions about the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund known as ESSER III.

What is ESSER III?

ESSER III is the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. It is often referred to as ARP ESSER as well.

The Hawaii State Department of Education (Department) submitted the State Plan for ESSER III to the US Department of Education and received approval on August 5, 2021. The $412.3 million in ESSER III funds was authorized to provide funding to support Hawaii’s schools in safely reopening and to mitigate learning loss. 

Are there restrictions or limitations on the ESSER III funding?

The overall guidance from the US Department of Education is that the ESSER III funds are to provided “to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Nation’s students.”

Of the total funds awarded, 23% is required to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions for students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic; 1% is required to fund summer enrichment programs; and 1% is required to fund comprehensive after-school programs. 

What is the ESSER III Educational Plan?

At the October 21, 2021 SAC/FIN meeting, Board member Kili Namau‘u presented recommendations on how HIDOE should use ESSER II and ESSER ARP (ESSER III) funds. This recommendation provided the Department with a three-part framework to include an educational plan, supporting fiscal plan, and detailed expenditure reporting.

The ESSER III Educational Plan is focused on three key areas to address the challenges that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These key areas are: health and safety, accelerated learning, and social emotional learning.

Why is stakeholder feedback important?

Part of the State Plan for ESSER III outlines the need for stakeholder feedback “to assess the strategies and programs implemented and to determine the needs that must be addressed.” Also in the State Plan is HIDOE’s responsibility “to consult with stakeholders to ensure appropriate measures are being taken to promote a safe and healthy learning environment for students and staff and to assess learning loss mitigation strategies.”

Ultimately though, stakeholder feedback holds HIDOE accountable for the services it must provide and ensures that students are receiving the support they need to become successful learners.

Will the ESSER III funding be spent equally on the three areas of focus: health and safety, accelerated learning, and social emotional learning?

The goal of the ESSER III funding is to support the safe reopening of in-person learning and sustaining safe operations of schools while meeting students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The three areas provide areas of focus to carry out this mission. However, the exact funding amounts to each area of focus may not always be equally distributed. As an example, with the approval of the vaccine for children 5 years of age and older, the hope is that there will be less need for PPE and so this may result in less spending in the area of health and safety.

Will the ESSER funding be spent at the school level or the complex level?

One of the underlying tenets of the ESSER III Educational Plan is that the funding be equitably distributed. This is the idea that access and educational supports are provided for all students and especially those who were disproportionately impacted by the implementation of distance learning during SY2020-21. Our desire is to get the funds down to the schools who are best able to provide resources to the students who need them most.  However, each school and complex is different and so we are also relying on our complex area superintendents to equitably distribute the funding to their schools that are in most need. As such, funding was allocated to complex areas based on the following factors: student needs and characteristics, school types, and the geographic regions in which schools are located.

Is ESSER III funding permanent?

No, the ESSER III funding is a one-time infusion from the federal government that must be spent by September of 2024.

When is the final ESSER III Educational Plan due to the Board?

The Department’s goal is to present the final ESSER III Educational Plan to the Board at its December 16, 2021 Board meeting. The Department encourages the public to visit the Board of Education’s website the week prior to the Board meeting on December 16, 2021 for a chance to see the final plan and to submit testimony to the Board. We are looking forward to having the Board approve our ESSER III Educational Plan so that funds can be released to schools and we can move forward with overcoming the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Ho‘oha‘aheo newsletter cover

The Department's primary publication featuring successes across our public schools.

View all Ho‘oha‘aheo Newsletters