ESSER Funds For Physical Education

Students watch a PLT4M instructional video in PE class.

ESSER Funds are a great way to fund physical education programs in schools. This article will explain what ESSER Funds are, how they are used, and how schools can apply for them. We will also discuss the benefits of using ESSER to fund physical education programs in schools.

What are ESSER Funds?


The Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds are a major component of the American Rescue Plan Act. ESSER funds are federal funds allocated to states and school districts to help address the learning loss and other educational needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


And while local educational agencies (LEAs) and states have always had some source of federal funding, ESSER funds have drastically increased the number of dollars flowing into school districts. In addition to local and federal funding, ESSER funding has added over 190 billion dollars to education funding. The three rounds of funding have also increased:


  1. 13.5 billion dollars – ESSER I 

  2.  54.3 billion dollars – ESSER II 

  3. – 123 billion dollars – ESSER III

Image Credit: SchoolLinks

What Can ESSER Funds Be Used For?


When ESSER I funds first kicked in, local education agencies (LEAs) looked to solve the immediate needs for remote and online learning. From there, ESSER II funds were used for students’ safety and improving infrastructure. In addition, schools looked to make up for lost instructional time and work towards recovering learning loss.


But now, as many schools are back to “normal,” billions of dollars from ESSER III still have yet to be utilized. And the ESSER III funds can be used for a wide variety of educational purposes. 


School districts can utilize ESSER funds for any of the following reasons:


  • Invest in digital teaching tools

  • Improve technological infrastructure

  • Increase support staff, substitutes, and employees

  • Provide professional development for staff

  • Make school repairs to reduce health hazards

  • Redesigning classrooms to promote health and wellness

  • Purchase PPE and other pandemic resources

  • Create programs to track and mitigate learning loss

  • Provide after-school and summer enrichment activities

  • Debut programs to connect families and classrooms


(Credit – ESpark Learning – Esser Funding) 


In addition to this list, a particular emphasis is placed on aiding low-income students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth.


ESSER Funds For Physical Education


So with all the different allowable uses of ESSER funding, can ESSER grants go toward physical education?


Short answer: Yes.


Like other grants for physical education, ESSER funds can help fund new technology, curriculum, equipment, and professional development. Therefore, not only does physical education fall under ESSER funds allowable uses, it should be considered a top priority for school districts. 


With a growing focus on student wellness in the aftermath of Covid, physical education can help address the many issues brought on by the pandemic.


Students follow along to a PLT4M yoga lesson during physical education class.
Students follow along to a yoga lesson in physical education.

Making a Case for Physical Education Funding


Even with ESSER III funds available and physical education considered an eligible subject for funding, there still needs to be a compelling argument made for PE. Physical education has struggled to obtain funding and support at the same rate as other subjects and departments for many years.


But school leaders should consider the wide variety of benefits and impacts of increased investment in physical education. So why is physical education important? 


There are four main points to consider when evaluating the importance of physical education:


1) Physical – Students who participate in a quality physical education program develop the skills and knowledge to improve and maintain personal fitness. And while people argue that regular physical activity can be achieved without physical education, PE lesson plans and curriculum can help equip and ensure students become physically literate. 


2) Mental –  Rising rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues have become the center of educational conversations. With exercise, students elevate their moods, reduce stress, and enhance self-esteem. Therefore, physical education can be the conduit for promoting happier and healthier students.


3) Academics – If the physical and mental benefits aren’t convincing enough, let’s discuss academic achievement and performance. Over 20 years ago, Dr. John Ratey showcased the link between physical activity and academic performance. And if his findings weren’t enough, then in 2010, the CDC released an 84-page report titled “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance.” In short students focus, attention and performance are all improved by physical activity and physical education.


4) Social-Emotional –  One of the five national Shape Standards (national physical education standards) is a social-emotional learning standard. Therefore, physical education prioritizes and focuses on the power of physical education classes and developing social-emotional skills.

Students participate in different types of fitness activities like weightlifting, yoga, and bootcamp.
Students who participate in PE and physical activity perform better in school.

Investing In PE – Now Is The Time


In the past, physical education funding has been a low priority for many school districts. Other pressing issues get attention and money, and physical education operates with limited resources. But, with an influx of ESSER funds, schools can seriously look at improving student wellness through physical education.


So what major areas can physical education tap into ESSER III funds?


1) Curriculum – ESSER III funds can help to invest in a diverse range of curriculum that will better promote fitness via yoga, dance, weightlifting, pilates, and more. As many schools have taken steps to transition to a fitness-focused curriculum, ESSER funds can add engaging content and curriculum to PE.


2) Technology – ESSER III funds can enhance the technology in physical education classes. With technology, fitness can become personalized and tracked through data and reporting. This can add an extra layer of learning into physical education.


3) Equipment – Depending on the amount of ESSER III funds available, you could add a few new pieces of equipment for your diverse range of students or even consider completely overhauling your fitness center or gym space. Look at your facilities and ask if they could use an update. 


4) Training/Professional Development – Are you and your fellow teachers ready to take on this initiative? For example, it might be training on teaching a type of fitness subject or how to utilize technology in the classroom better. What training or professional development will help set up for long-term success in physical education?

Students watch a PLT4M instructional video on a tablet during PE class.
Students use technology in PE class.

First Steps To Obtaining ESSER Funds For PE


While you might be eager to start the application process, getting ESSER funds for physical education takes time.


The first step is identifying what your ESSER III funds will go towards. It could be specifically for one of the four categories (curriculum, technology, equipment, professional development) or some combination of the options. This is an important step because you must have an action plan showing you have done your homework.


Next, involve school leaders and district-level people who can help with the application process. It can be a daunting task, but someone at the school or district level has already gone through the application process before so talk to them about what steps are needed. From there, you can help to compile the necessary resources to obtain the ESSER funds.


While hopefully, the process is smooth sailing from there, prepare for roadblocks. The school district might say no to ESSER funds for physical education or the money might have already been spent. If that is the case, don’t give up! If there is no chance of ESSER funds going to PE, alternative funding streams and grants for physical education exist. 

Physical Education Grant Template 

Use PLT4M’s grant template to help you get started in your application process. 

Key Takeaways on ESSER Funds for Physical Education


There is no question that ESSER funds can be used for physical education. The question is if your district has ESSER III funds remaining and if they have a current plan to use them.


While it might be intimidating to ask for or pursue this funding avenue, this is a big opportunity for physical education. ESSER funds can be used through September of 2024, so there is still time to make a case for physical education.


Want help putting together a proposal for ESSER III funds and physical education? Check out PLT4 M’s grant template for physical education or contact our team, and we can help make a case for physical education funding!


Ready to Learn More? 

Schedule a free 10 minute consultation to see how the PLT4M system can help save you time, and empower student learning!



How do you know how much money a local education agency has through these funds?


The website includes an interactive map that details how much ESSER funding each LEA receives. 


When do the different funds expire?


ESSER I funds are expired.

ESSER II funds expire in September 2023.

ESSER III funds expire in September 2024.


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