U.S. Department of Education Recognizes Music Education in Its Newly Released ESSER Guidance

On May 26, the U.S. Department of Education released the first round of guidance regarding the use of Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Funds (ESSER Funds) since President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law. The American Rescue Plan created $126 billion in additional ESSER funding for K–12 education, with $81 billion already distributed to states. $41 billion will become available after states’ plans are approved by the U.S. Department of Education (USED). The American Rescue Plan also includes $3 billion for special education, $850 million for the Outlying Areas, $2.75 billion to support non-public schools, and additional funding for homeless children and youth, Tribal educational agencies, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives. NAfME created a toolkit to help music educators use ESSER funds to support more equitable access to music education, and has a landing page where updated resources and examples will be forthcoming.

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Of interest to music education advocates is the inclusion of arts and music in the guidance itself. Found on page 30 of the guidance, the U.S. Department of Education states:

“An LEA [school district] might also address the needs of students arising from the COVID-19 pandemic by using ESSER and GEER funds to implement or expand arts programs, such as music programs, including purchasing instruments…”

This explicit reference should help music and arts educators and advocates be more successful in requesting ESSER funds to support building their programs next school year. As you work to make the case for ESSER funds supporting your program, we suggest tying back your request to the 16 fundable activities of ESSER. You can find more information on what those fundable activities are and how they connect to music education in the NAfME ESSER Funding Toolkit.

In addition to music being called out in the guidance, additional highlights include:

  • The Department recognizes that there are many aspects to providing an equitable education, including equitable access to a well-rounded education, which includes music and the arts (p. 9).
  • The Department requires that school leaders seek input from community stakeholders, which could include music educators, music parent boosters, music industry and merchants, and music students: “School districts must engage in meaningful consultation with stakeholders including students; families; school and district administrators (including special education administrators); and teachers, principals, school leaders, other educators, school staff, and their unions. A school district must provide the public the opportunity to provide input on the development of the plan, take such input into account, and post the LEA ARP ESSER plan on its website.” (p. 14)
  • States cannot limit the funds going to school districts under the ESSER formula found in the American Rescue Plan. In addition, states cannot use ESSER funds to “backfill” state budget deficits. States must maintain maintenance of effort in terms of funding public education. This means that ESSER funds should be on top of, not replacing, usual funding sources for your school district (state and local funds – p. 15).
  • The Department explicitly states that “supplement, not supplant” rules are not in effect for ESSER funds. This gives school districts greater flexibility (as found in the fundable activities of ESSER) to use the funds to support all aspects of education, and not just “new” programs or those which meet Title I or other federal educational program requirements (p. 20).
  • The Department encourages school districts (LEAs) to think creatively and holistically about summer programming (p. 44): “LEAs should consider a variety of options for procuring summer services … including programs run by non-profit or community organizations as well as those run by the LEA. Effective summer programming can address students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs through a combination of activities that include strong partnerships with community-based organizations and other summer providers, including summer camps.” This broad approach to summer programming can easily include music camps for returning music students, for new music students, and even additional music programming or offerings for students.

NAfME Public Policy Staff, June 21, 2021. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)