ESSER Funds Can be Used to Get Cleaner Air in Classrooms

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Clean, purified air quality in schools is paramount as we pursue academic excellence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Utilizing ESSER funds to purchase air purifiers and air quality solutions is the key to providing healthier, safer learning environments for all. Discover how you can leverage your allocated funds to transform your school’s air quality.

As educators continue to pursue academic excellence and student well-being after the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining optimal air quality in schools has become a top concern. Clean air in learning environments is integral to students’ health and academic success, and strategic utilization of Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER) funds can help you provide a healthier environment for all.

In this guide, we will cover:

  • The importance of clean air in classrooms
  • An overview of ESSER funds
  • Statistics and reasons behind underutilization of these funds
  • How to leverage ESSER funds for cleaner air

The Importance of Clean Air in Classrooms

Clean air in classrooms is linked to your students’ overall health and well-being. Unclean air contains pollutants, like dust particles, allergens, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These contaminants can lead to a host of health issues, including but not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Infections
  • Chronic respiratory diseases like asthma
  • Exacerbation of conditions like asthma and allergies
  • The spread of airborne diseases, including COVID-19

Unclean air also directly influences learning and concentration. Poor air quality can lead to reduced cognitive function, which is detrimental to the learning process. 

Conversely, a learning environment with pure, uncontaminated air significantly reduces the risk of health and cognitive issues. This optimizes the learning experience by allowing students to focus and absorb knowledge more effectively.

It also reduces absenteeism as fewer children and staff leave school due to respiratory issues and illness. Therefore, addressing air quality issues can help you foster a safe, healthy environment conducive to learning and intellectual growth.

An Overview of ESSER Funds

What are ESSER funds? This unique stimulus offers substantial financial support to enhance various aspects of educational institutions, including air quality. They were established as a response to the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress passed three stimulus bills in 2021, which collectively allocated nearly $190.5 billion to the ESSER fund.

  1. The first of these was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). Passed on March 27, 2020, it provided $13.2 billion to the ESSER fund. 
  2. The second Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) passed on December 27, 2020. It contributed an additional $54.3 billion, known as the ESSER II fund. 
  3. Lastly, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) was enacted on March 11, 2021. It supplied a supplemental $122 billion, referred to as the ESSER III fund or ARP ESSER.

ESSER Fund Allocation

As outlined by the U.S. Department of Education, ESSER funds are distributed to state educational agencies (SEAs) based on each state’s proportion received under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title-IA. SEAs must allocate at least 90% of the received funds to local education agencies (LEAs) based on their proportional share of funds. They can reserve the remaining 10% for addressing emergency needs as determined by the state to respond to issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of January 10, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education approved the implementation plans of all states, making two-thirds of ESSER funds immediately available to all states. The remaining funds have also been made available to all states after they submitted their ESSER plans and received federal approval.

Intended Use of ESSER Funds

The primary purpose of ESSER funds is to help schools reopen and sustain operations while addressing the impact of the pandemic on students. They are intended for a variety of activities, including:

  • Learning loss
  • After school activities
  • Summer learning programs
  • Technology for online learning
  • Mental health services and support

LEAs must reserve at least 20% of the funding to address learning loss. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, you can also use the ARP ESSER funds to improve indoor air quality for in-person instruction. That includes purchasing portable air filtration units like HEPA air purifiers. After all, improving air quality in schools is one of the best ways to mitigate the spread of viruses and reduce health risks.  Therefore, acquiring air purifiers is one of the best ways to spend ESSER funds since it directly correlates with creating a safer and healthier learning environment. 

The Underutilization of ESSER Funds

As of April 2023, only 27% of districts have used 100% of their ESSER funds. Twenty-one percent have used 50% or less, while 52% have spent about three-quarters. Schools have only used $113 billion of the $189 billion available— 59.6% of available funds— as of September 2023.

These stats make it clear that schools are struggling to use up their available funds. For example, Wisconsin school districts have only spent 37.8% of funds, while DC has only spent 39.9%. Various factors are causing this underspending of ESSER funds, including:

  • Confusion regarding permissible use of funds, hindering optimal use of resources
  • A lack of clear, concise instructions, causing school administrators to be hesitant and reluctant due to fear of non-compliance repercussions
  • Intricate regulations and stipulations that lead to delays

A Guide to Leveraging ESSER Funds for Cleaner Air

Navigating the intricacies of ESSER funds can be daunting, but it is not impossible. Consider the following steps and best practices to apply for and secure ESSER funds for your school.

How to Apply for ESSER Funds

  1. Find out how much your district is allocated through your related SEA.
  2. Complete your application.
  3. Within 30 days of receiving approval, create your District Return to School Plan and make it publicly available on your website.

Tips for Securing Your Funds

First, create a clear and concise plan detailing your plan for spending ESSER funds. This plan should align with the intended purpose of the funds: addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students.

Maintain open and transparent communication with concerned authorities to facilitate the process. Respond promptly to any requests for additional information to expedite approval.

Finally, stay informed about any changes in guidelines or requirements and adapt your application and/or district plan accordingly.

Possible Solutions for Cleaner Air

You can use ESSER funds to achieve cleaner air in your schools in various ways. For example, you can update your school’s HVAC systems to meet industry standards. You can also purchase portable air purifiers to consistently cleanse the air. You can find some of the best large room air purifiers, from brands like Fellowes, TruSens, and MBM.

Quick FAQs

Are air purifiers good for classrooms?

Absolutely. Air purifiers filter out harmful particles, allergens, and pollutants, creating cleaner and healthier air quality for students, educators, and staff. Cleaner air can significantly reduce the transmission of viruses and other airborne illnesses, contributing to a safer learning environment.

What is the best portable HEPA filter for classrooms?

The best portable HEPA filter for classrooms would be combined with an activated carbon filter and cover at least 800 square feet. It would also be quiet and efficient and include other features such as UV-C technology and smart functions.

How can we improve air quality in the classroom?

We can improve air quality in the classroom by regularly opening windows to ensure proper ventilation, thoroughly cleaning hard surfaces daily, updating and maintaining HVAC systems, and using portable HEPA air purifiers. Additionally, maintaining optimal humidity and avoiding harmful cleaning chemicals can help improve indoor air quality.

Buy School Air Purifiers with ESSER Funds

Use your remaining ESSER funds to protect the air you and your students breathe today. Spiral provides a range of air purifiers designed to meet the diverse needs of educational institutions. 

Are you ready to discover the difference that air purifiers can make in your school?

Give us a call at 800-631-3572, we’d be happy to assist you.

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