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State leaders approve all spending plans from school districts for around $3.5 billion in federal relief funds

The Department of Education announced all 147 school districts in the state received approval for their plans to spend their portions of ESSER funds.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — All 147 school districts in Tennessee will soon be able to spend federal money to benefit their schools after the state Department of Education approved their plans on how to use incoming federal relief funds.

Those funds total more than $3.5 billion. earmarked to help schools across Tennessee manage the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money comes from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds created by the federal government.

They were established in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and state officials said the money will need to be spent before fall 2024. It is being distributed in three waves. To use the funds, school districts need to prepare comprehensive plans describing what they need the money for.

They need to submit five parts to TDOE including an ESSER Public Plan, an ESSER 3.0 Funding Application, a Health and Safety Plan, a Needs Assessment and a Community Engagement Checklist.

The state offered resources to help district leaders create plans which included templates, webinars, planning documents, weekly calls and targeted support, according to a release from officials.

The state also has its own plan on how to spend ESSER funds specifically set aside for the department, officials said. They said those plans include grant opportunities and resources supporting school districts, schools, students, teachers and families. The plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Education on July 15, officials said.

Knox County Schools held public feedback meetings about how the community wanted the money to be spent in June. Officials said they were expecting $114 million in ESSER funds in those meetings.

Those funds were expected to go to improve employee retention and support early childhood reading skills. They also said they plan to use the money to offer more federal funding.

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