Federal COVID Funding to Virginia K-12 Schools

by James C. Sherlock

The federal government allocated a great deal of money in each of two different pieces of legislation in 2020 to provide COVID-related relief to K-12 schools.

I will endeavor here to explain briefly what that means to Virginia.

The two pieces of 2020 federal legislation that provide funding to K-12 schools were:

  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on March 27, 2020; and
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) signed into law on December 27, 2020

Two of the major program elements under each of those two bills are :

  • Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER and ESSER II) funding – Virginia’s allocation is $1.2 billion dollars, 90% of which is to be sub-allocated by formula to school districts.
  • Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEERS and GEERS II) funding – $132 million to be allocated to the neediest public schools and non-public schools at the Governor’s discretion.  Money for the Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS) program is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.  Virginia’s EANS allocation was $46,618,019. For comparison, total Virginia K-12 school spending from all sources was estimated by the NEA at $17.8 billion in 2018-19.

By way of comparison, the federal government sent $1 billion to Virginia for K-12 schools in 2019, including big money from the Department of Agriculture for the National School Lunch program ($247 million) and other non-educational programs, so the 2020 COVID supplementals already exceed the original annual federal appropriations for Virginia.

There is much more COVID money for these schools in federal legislation currently pending.I will drill down a bit on the ESSER and ESSER II programs to give readers a feel for the complexities and attempted safeguards in all such funding.

First know that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 updated as the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 has six specific titles with dedicated funding. These are:


I won’t attempt to break down COVID school funding by these titles, but there is language in the laws for each.

TITLE V: FLEXIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY is very important and is addressed in the COVID-related educational funding rules I will touch on below.

The Virginia State Education Agency (SEA) mentioned in the legislation is the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Local Education Agencies (LEAs) are the school districts for public schools and private school entities as designated by VDOE. There is language in the laws for charter schools and magnet schools.

Questions and Answers

Who applies to the federal Department of education for ESSER funds? VDOE.

How do LEAs get their share? They must apply to VDOE.

What are the periods for funds availability?

  • ESSER. May be used for pre-award costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared. Available for obligation by State educational agencies (SEAs) and subrecipients through September 30, 2022.
  • ESSER II. May be used for pre-award costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared. Available for obligation by SEAs and subrecipients through September 30, 2023.

VDOE deadline for awarding funds?

  • ESSER. VDOE must award the funds within one year of receiving them, which will be April through June 2021, depending on an SEA’s award date.
  • ESSER II. VDOE must award the funds within one year of receiving them, which will be January 2022.

Allowable uses of the funds?

  • ESSER. The CARES Act includes allowable uses of funds related to preventing, preparing for, and responding to COVID-19.  These include addressing learning loss, preparing schools for reopening, and testing, repairing, and upgrading projects to improve air quality in school buildings.
  • ESSER II. Same as ESSER plus additional uses.

Equitable services?

  • ESSER. An LEA that receives ESSER funds under the CARES Act must provide equitable services to non-public school students and teachers in the same manner as provided under section 1117 of Title I, Part A of the ESEA. Nothing in the CARES Act suggests Congress intended to differentiate between students based upon the public or non-public nature of their school with respect to eligibility for relief.
  • ESSER II. The CRRSA Act includes a separate program of Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools in Geers II for which eligible non-public schools may apply to an SEA to receive services or assistance. Consequently, LEAs are not required to provide equitable services under ESSER II.


  • ESSER. VDOE must meet the reporting requirements of the CARES Act, which are satisfied through the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) reporting, and other reporting as the Secretary may require.   A grantee which receives more than $150,000 report to the U.S. Department of Education (Department) on a quarterly basis
  • ESSER II.  Adds a requirement that VDOE submit a report to the Secretary within six months of award that contains a detailed accounting of the use of ESSER II funds, that includes how the State is using funds to measure and address learning loss among students disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and school closures, including: low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care.

Tracking of funds?  ESSER I and ESSER II funds must be tracked separately.

Federal monitoring and audits? The federal Department of Education will monitor the use of ESSER and ESSER II funds. In addition, those funds are subject to audit requirements under the Single Audit Act and to review by the Government Accountability Office. The Department’s Office of the Inspector General may audit program implementation, as may any other federal agency, commission, or department in the lawful exercise of its jurisdiction and authority.

ESSER funding allocated to Virginia

  • Total $238,599,192
  • Minimum (90%) local educational agency (LEA) Distribution: $214,739,273
  • Maximum State educational agency (VDOE) Reservation: $23,859,919
  • Maximum for VDOE Administration (Must come from VDOE Reservation): $1,192,996

ESSER II funding allocated to Virginia

  • Total $939,280,578
  • Minimum (90%) local educational agency (LEA) Distribution: $845,352,520
  • Maximum State VDOE Reservation: $93,928,058
    Maximum for VDOE Administration (Must come from VDOE Reservation): $4,696,403)

This completes a brief exposure to part of the federal DOE-managed Virginia K-12 money in the federal COVID relief appropriations for bills passed in 2020. It is a companion to the one I published on a very small slice of the HHS-managed COVID money that is allocated to Head Start in Virginia.


I hope the takeaways include:

  • these constitute huge one-time supplements being written into existing programs;
  • the administrative requirements are very specific, somewhat different between the two bills and demanding at every level. There is administrative-cost money in each appropriation. We hope it is enough, but, regardless, it will prove hard to contract out most of the work and will require a lot of extra work by existing administrators at federal, state and local levels;
  • the government will do the best it can to monitor for misallocation or misspending of this money; and
  • there is lots more money to come.

We all hope the money is spent well. We’ll just have to see how it works out.

We should all hope for the best, because we will have to pay the greatly increased interest on the national debt every year. Our children and grandchildren will have to figure out at some point how to pay the money back.