ESSER and GEER Funds: The “Bus” Stops Here

Over the last two years, schools have received funding through the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) programs. These funds are re­stricted to certain allowable uses, which generally relate to preventing, preparing for, or responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released guidance on using these funds to address an­other pandemic-related obstacle: the bus driver short­age. The guidance is available at:

https://oese.ed.gov/files/2021/11/FAQs-Transportation.pdf

This article provides a brief overview of the expanded allowable uses of ESSER and GEER funds for student transportation.

Transportation Costs

Schools may use ESSER and GEER funds to support or provide transportation services so long as the need is related to COVID-19 and the cost is reasonable and necessary. The guidance makes clear that the funds do not need to be used only for traditional school bus transportation. Instead, the funds can be spent on:

  • public transportation services (e.g., bus or subway fare),
  • taxis, rideshare services, or other driving services, and
  • travel expenses for before- and after-school learning and enrichment activities for students.

Parent Reimbursement

Schools may reimburse parents or guardians for transportation costs or offer a stipend for transporting their children, as long as the costs are reasonable and necessary. A school must develop clear, objective procedures that consider:

  • the number of days of transportation provided for in-person attendance,
  • documentation of travel costs to ensure that the compensation is used only for transportation-related expenses, and
  • a process to account for any ESSER funds that were paid to parents or guardians but not used for transportation costs.

Bus Drivers

ESSER and GEER funds may be spent to address the current bus driver shortage. Funds may be used for re­tention bonuses or salary increases for current bus drivers or be used to hire, train, or license additional bus drivers. Importantly, school officials should imple­ment these bonuses or increases consistent with applicable collective bargaining agreements and other relevant policies and requirements.

While not legally binding, the DOE guidance expands its interpretation of the allowable uses of ESSER and GEER funds for transportation. Notably, sev­eral of these uses could implicate other laws and regulations, especially for students with disabilities. School officials should carefully consider the proper use of these funds to address the bus driver shortage and other pandemic-related transportation challenges.