Optimizing ESSER Funding for Career and Technical Education

As part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government provided a total of $280 billion for K–12 and postsecondary schools over three rounds of unprecedented investment into education. For perspective, $280 billion is 200 times the annual allocation for Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins v). The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I, II, III) portion of each of the three emergency response bills totaled $189 billion for a range of uses from education technology to building costs and staff salaries. While states and districts were given wide discretion on how to invest the money, there are time limits for the money to be spent.

Although CTE was not specifically called out in these emergency bills, many districts are using ESSER funds to prioritize and expand their CTE programs. ESSER dollars are intended to make up for lost instructional time and accelerating learning to get students back on track for grade level work and learning college and career skills, and CTE has an integral role in this process.

Blending ESSER & CTE Funding 

To ensure the efficiency and sustainability of their programs, CTE educators have to be forward

thinking and creative to ensure CTE programs receive an appropriate amount of the funds when state and district leaders are deciding where the money is to be spent. According to EducationWeek, most of ESSER I and II funds were spent on equipment to minimize coronavirus spread and connecting students to school from home. A minimum of 20 percent of ESSER III funds must be spent on compensating for lost instructional time, but districts can spend more if they so choose. Just under half of districts have allocated their funds, but some districts are still deciding where to allocate funding.

Ideas for Using ESSER Funds 

Starting or Expanding Summer Camps & After-School Clubs

These can help accelerate learning to make up for lost instruction time during the

pandemic. Both of these ideas have the advantage of additional CTE recruitment

potential as they operate outside standard school hours, and include areas such as

eSports, robotics, and other STEM activities.

Investing in Digital Curriculum – 

Schools and districts have made significant investments in technology in

response to the pandemic, digital learning allows CTE programs greater flexibility in

course delivery and facilitates individualized instruction.

Updating Labs with High-Tech Training Systems

The pandemic exacerbated the skills gap, and with Industry 4.0 and the acceleration of

technology, CTE programs can struggle to keep pace with manufacturing changes in such

areas as automation. Investing in industry-grade equipment will allow CTE programs to

upgrade the technical skills they teach to prepare students for today’s workforce.

Professional Development & Training for Teachers

Investing in PD and training meets both ESSER and CTE objectives. It is particularly

important for CTE teachers to participate in ongoing professional learning as it relates

to new equipment and increasing technical skills.

 

The federal stimulus funds create an unparalleled opportunity to make a significant investment in CTE programs throughout the country, either for expansion or creation. CTE programs provide students with the academic, technical skills and practical experience they need to be successful in their post-secondary lives. This one-time infusion of ESSER stimulus funds makes this the ideal time to ensure high quality CTE programs have a central place in K–12 education to provide students with career-specific learning opportunities leading to additional career possibilities and equip students with a robust set of skills that prepare them for their future. 

 

About the Author

JoshuaWitherspoon_WEB

After serving as a Texas FFA state officer in 2018, Josh Witherspoon joined the iCEV team as a part-time employee for almost 3 years before taking on the role of content development specialist in 2022. Witherspoon holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural communications from Texas Tech University, in which his experience and proficiency in writing, marketing and CTE allow him to effectively communicate the successes of CTE educators and students and the value iCEV has to offer.  

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