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A Look at School Districts’ Unspent CARES Act Funds

The federal government has released billions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds since the COVID-19 pandemic began — and local school districts face a looming deadline by which they must still spend many millions.

Children sitting at their desks in a classroom raising their hands.
Local education entities have significant amounts of federal COVID-19 relief remaining — tens of millions of dollars in some cases — and a dwindling interval of time in which to spend it.

Which funds and where? Specifically, monies from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund — one of three primary emergency relief funds that are part of the Education Stabilization Fund, created March 27, 2020, with the signing into law of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Local education agencies and entities have until Sept. 30, 2022, to spend funding they have received via this CARES Act stream. (Two similar funds, ESSER II and ESSER III, were created by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act, respectively. Their respective deadlines are Sept. 30, 2023, and Sept. 30, 2024.)

Across the state, school districts collectively had nearly $193 million in ESSER I funds remaining unspent as of Aug. 31. Among the entities with notable balances remaining to be spent as of Aug. 31 were*:

  • Fresno Unified School District, with $26.7 million unspent.
  • Long Beach Unified School District, $15.3 million.
  • Elk Grove Unified School District, $8 million.
  • Santa Ana Unified School District, $7.6 million.
  • Coachella Valley Unified School District, $5.8 million.
  • Hesperia Unified School District, $4.6 million.
  • Garden Grove Unified School District, $4.1 million.
  • Antelope Valley Union High School District, $3.4 million.
  • Sweetwater Union High School District, $3.2 million.
  • Lake Elsinore Unified School District, $3.1 million.

*Amounts are rounded.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.