Essential Solutions 5-MIN. READ

Find Federal and State Funding for Summer School to Address Pandemic-Related Unfinished Learning

By: Elizabeth Goodsell 03/04/2021
Learn how educators can draw on federal resources, such as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, as well as state funding to address unfinished learning this summer.
Several students huddle around their teacher while working on a hand-written lesson. All are wearing masks.

*This post has been updated to include new information about the American Rescue Plan (otherwise known as ESSER III or ARP ESSER).

For the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has unmoored the nation’s education system, leaving educators worried about the unprecedented levels of unfinished learning (particularly among underserved students) they could face in the fall. Many districts are exploring summer school or an extended school year as a way to help students catch up. Figuring out how they are going to fund summer-learning initiatives is, of course, a top concern for district and school leaders.

In an earlier guide, the Grants and Funding team explained the education-related components of recent federal stimulus legislation. Here, we shed light on how educators can draw on federal resources, such as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund, as well as state funding to address unfinished learning this summer.


Created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020, the ESSER I Fund provided $13 billion in emergency funding for Grades K–12 schools to address needs related to the coronavirus pandemic. Congress authorized $54 billion in a second round of ESSER monies, called ESSER II, in December 2020 and an additional $122 billion (ESSER III or ARP ESSER) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March 2021. This formula funding is allocated to each state based on the state’s level of Title I, Part A funding. States must distribute 90 percent of their allocation to districts with Title I programs.

Districts have the flexibility to spend their ESSER funding in a multitude of ways. ESSER funds can be used on assessment programs, instructional materials, software, hardware, professional development, connectivity, teacher pay, and summer-learning activities.


ESSER I legislation explicitly states that funding can be spent on "planning and implementing activities related to summer-learning and supplemental after-school programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of students from low-income households, students with disabilities, English Learners, migrant students, students experiencing housing insecurity, and children in foster care."


ESSER II funding “can be leveraged for a wide range of activities, including all uses permitted by ESSER I as well as initiatives associated with measuring and remediating learning loss and efforts to ready school facilities for reopening.”


The ARP ESSER legislation has a strong focus on using summer learning and includes mandates for several state- and district-level set-asides that should be used for summer programs.

States must use:

  • Five percent of their total ARP ESSER funding for “the implementation of evidence-based interventions aimed specifically at addressing learning loss, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, or extended school year programs.”
  • One percent of their total ARP ESSER funding “for evidence-based summer enrichment programs and ensure such programs respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on student subgroups” (including English Learners, students with disabilities, students from low-income households, etc.).

Districts that receive funding reserves must use:

  • At least 20 percent of their total ARP ESSER allocation to address learning loss, again through “evidence-based interventions, such as summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day, comprehensive after-school programs, extended school year programs . . . .”

Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Grant Program

The US Department of Education (DOE)'s Nita M. Lowey 21st CCLC grant program “supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children.” Grant winners can use 21st CCLC funding for a range of before- and after-school activities, which include summer learning.

Under this program, the DOE awards funds to state education agencies, which, in turn, award grants to eligible entities, such as districts, community-based organizations, tribal organizations, public/private entities, or consortia.

Each state structures its own 21st CCLC sub-grant competitions to address local needs, so check your state’s eligibility and program requirements for this grant.

State and Local Funding

Addressing unfinished learning in summer is a high priority for many districts. State and local funding may be available to support these plans.

In addition to ESSER, the CARES Act authorized the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which is a flexible source of federal funding that governors may allocate to meet local educational needs due to the pandemic. Some governors may choose to use this funding to support summer learning.

States may combine their funding sources for new initiatives. For example, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill in January requiring additional intervention for struggling students this summer. In California, the Governor’s budget requests an allocation of $4.6 billion for districts to provide “. . . interventions that focus on students from low-income families, English Learners, youth in foster care, and homeless youth, including an extended school year or summer school.”

Funding and Support for High-Quality Summer Learning

In addition to funding, there is a nationwide focus on using this summer to extend learning and enrichment to help alleviate the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on students. On March 24, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced a new Summer Learning & Enrichment Collaborative, a partnership between the department, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association. Launching in April, the Collaborative will be a “professional learning community that brings relevant stakeholders to the table to discuss how to build effective plans for high-quality, evidence-based summer learning and enrichment.” The Collaborative’s ambitious agenda includes fostering and deepening relationships among states, districts, educators, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders to “scale and sustain” successful summer-learning programs.