Federal Funding for Education during the Pandemic: A Guide to CARES, ESSER, and GEER

By: | 02/18/2021
Category: Leadership

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, Congress passed several bills that provided stimulus funding for the economy and individuals as well as billions of dollars targeted for education. As a result of the legislation, several new terms have entered our education funding vocabulary, and it can be a challenge to keep them straight. This article explains some of the acronyms you may be hearing to help you make sense of the alphabet soup of federal stimulus funding!

CARES Act, ESSER, GEER, and CRRSA definitions table.


Passed in March 2020, the CARES Act is the first Congressional action taken to provide economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. CARES stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, and the act provides economic aid to individuals, businesses, local governments, and the education sector.

The CARES Act includes an Education Stabilization Fund, which contains two major sources of emergency funding for K–12 schools: the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.


The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund designates $13.2 billion of the CARES Act for K–12 schools. ESSER funds are allocated to each state as a formula grant  based on the state’s level of Title I, Part A funding. Ninety percent of state ESSER funds must be distributed to districts based on each district’s share of Title I, Part A funds. States can keep the remaining 10 percent.

Districts are able to spend their ESSER funds on a range of activities, services, and goods (outlined in the legislation Section 18003(d)). For example, the following items are all covered under ESSER:

  • COVID-19 preparedness efforts
  • Education technology
  • Mental health services
  • Summer-learning and after-school programs
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Programs to meet the unique needs of special student populations, including English Learners, children with disabilities, and children with socioeconomic disadvantages


The CARES Act authorized approximately $3 billion for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. The GEER Fund gives governors a flexible source of federal funding to meet local educational needs resulting from the pandemic. GEER grants can be awarded to districts, higher-education institutions, and/or other educational entities, such as nonprofits, libraries, and state agencies.

Governors have wide discretion when it comes to allocating funds and can give GEER grants to districts that the state “deems to have been most significantly impacted by COVID-19,” so these districts are able to continue providing educational services to both public and nonpublic schools.

Curriculum Associates is committed to helping our educator partners understand funding sources and the ever-changing funding landscape. Find out more at our online Grants and Funding Center.


Congress enacted a second round of federal stimulus in December 2020 with the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA). Often referred to as “CARES Act II,” this legislation authorized $54.3 billion more for the ESSER Fund, now called “ESSER II.”

ESSER II funding can be used for the same activities as described in ESSER legislation, with an additional focus on addressing learning loss, preparing schools for reopening, and projects to improve air quality in school buildings.

For more details, the US Department of Education provides a comparison of both ESSER funds.

What Comes Next?

President Biden outlined his plan for pandemic relief, which includes additional funds to support education and open more K–8 schools. With a new administration in the White House, more funding under new names is likely to be authorized with Congress.

Have questions about grants and funding? Send your question to blog@cainc.com and we just might answer it in an upcoming blog post.

Additional Resources

Read how Curriculum Associates has enhanced its programs to support educators in providing access to grade-level instruction and addressing unfinished learning.

Discover More
Locate Your Representative