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3 Ways to Use ESSER Funds to Support Digital Learning

3 Ways to Use ESSER Funds to Support Digital Learning

Apr 11, 2024, 13:01 PM by Hailey Fitch
With the deadline to obligate ESSER funds quickly approaching on Sept. 30, 2024, our FlexPoint President and Chief Executive Officer offers school and district leaders with three recommendations on how to use remaining funds to support digital learning.

By: Dr. Louis Algaze, President and Chief Executive Officer of FlexPoint 

A virtual teacher in his home office gives a live video conferencing lesson on science


School districts will lose thousands of dollars that could be spent mitigating learning loss, solving for teacher shortages, and more if they fail to obligate Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds by Sept. 30, 2024. According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as of Jan. 2024, 50% or more of ESSER III funds remain unspent in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

With homeschooling becoming America’s fastest growing form of education, and 72% of parents considering new schools for their children this school year, it’s clear that families are looking for alternative forms of education.

To meet students where they are, school leaders should use the remaining ESSER III funds to add or enhance digital learning solutions, such as high-quality online and/or blended learning programs. Here are three ways you can use remaining ESSER funds to add or enhance a digital learning program in your school or district:

1) Hire Virtual Teachers or School Counselors

As President and CEO of FlexPoint, I have the privilege of meeting with school and district leaders from around the nation to discuss their successes, challenges, and hopes for the future. During these conversations, one challenge that continues to be top-of-mind is teacher shortages. 

From difficulty hiring for specific subjects like world languages, electives, or Advanced Placement ®, to unexpected teacher absences in the middle of the school year, these vacancies are being felt by all school staff and impact continuity of learning for students. 

If you have immediate staffing needs, one way to utilize remaining ESSER funds is to partner with a supportive virtual school. Their accredited teachers and one-to-one support should be an extension of the incredible work you and your educators already do. 

For additional short-term and long-term teacher shortage solutions and ways to implement them, please read our in-depth blog

2) Incorporate Digital Courses in Your School or District

Although online and blended learning programs aren’t novel to education, they have evolved with new advancements in the EdTech space. For example, digital courses are more engaging and effective due to new tools like interactive modules that feature activities, videos, and games to improve learning, and built-in quizzes to test comprehension. Furthermore, advancements to learning management systems now provide teachers real-time student performance data, quickly identifying students who may need additional assistance. 

As educators, we have many opportunities to enhance learning outcomes through technology, which is why it’s imperative to offer families innovative programs directly through their school district, giving them the flexibility they’re seeking while keeping funding within the district. That way, rather than families leaving public school to homeschool, or switching to private and/or charter schools, they can stay with their zoned school to meet all their educational needs.

The way to do that is by utilizing remaining ESSER III funds to incorporate comprehensive digital courses into your school or district. 

For example, for more than 10 years, Union Public Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma has partnered with FlexPoint to develop and evolve the Union Virtual Learning Academy (UVLA) into a highly regarded blended learning program. The district leaders at Union Public Schools wanted to introduce virtual components that would allow them to evolve in parallel with the way their students were experiencing the digital world around them. Blended learning quickly became the obvious solution as it combined the best of both educational worlds - engaging online courses and face-to-face instruction. 

Fast forward to the 2021-22 school year, 50% of all seniors in the district took at least one blended learning course with a passing rate for all blended learning courses never falling below 93%. And, because it’s their own unique program, students can get a more flexible learning experience while funding stays in the district. 

3) Educator Training and Professional Development

According to the Institute of Education Sciences, teachers who receive substantial professional development can boost their students’ achievement by 21 percentile points. It’s critical to provide teachers and staff with the training they need to feel confident and connected to their students in the online learning environment, which is why I recommend using remaining ESSER III funds on professional development.

Since 2018, we have offered our resources and support to schools and districts that are interested in starting online or blended learning programs. Over that time, we’ve discovered that learners in the online classroom want the same thing as those in the brick-and-mortar classroom: connection. Students want to feel connected to their teachers and classmates, and when that feeling of connectedness increases, so does their engagement. 

With this in mind, we recommend training your teachers on how to implement best practices in online learning so they can create fun and engaging activities for their students. Here are a few trainings you could invest in to take your staff’s expertise to the next level:

  1. Virtual Elementary Best Practices
  2. Academic Integrity in the Virtual Classroom
  3. Discussion-Based Assessment Essentials
  4. Establishing Relationships in the Virtual Classroom
  5. Live Lessons in a Virtual Classroom
  6. Supporting Unique Learners 
  7. Translating Teaching Strategies From Classroom to Online

To learn more about FlexPoint professional development options for you and your staff, check out our suite of offerings

Put Together a Plan

To meet the Sept. 30, 2024 deadline, I recommend that you start mapping out what your students, families, and teachers need to reach success. There are many options for school and district leaders who are either just starting to explore the idea of having an online or blended program, or are looking to elevate a program they already have in place. 

My suggestion is to partner with an online learning provider who not only has a comprehensive and engaging curriculum, training and professional development for educators, and technical support, but also understands your unique situation as a school administrator. 

At FlexPoint, our 20+ years of experience in online education allows us to quickly understand the challenges and opportunities schools face every day, and what truly matters to school administrators - the success of your students, and supporting your teachers. 

If you're interested in learning more about how you can use remaining ESSER funds to support your students, families, and teachers’ needs, connect with us today

About the author: Dr. Louis Algaze is the President and Chief Executive Officer for FlexPoint. In this role, his primary responsibility is to set the strategy and vision for the organization, which develops and delivers more than 190 online courses to over 200,000 students annually in grades Kindergarten-12. He oversees the day-to-day operations for the more than 3,000-employee organization and is responsible for the overall performance of FlexPoint with a goal of improving student learning outcomes.