Leveraging ESSER Funds

Leveraging ESSER III Funds for OST & Community Partnerships

On March 11, 2021 President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law, putting nearly $2 trillion into all facets of the American economy. This legislation allocates approximately $122 billion to public education through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER, or in this case ESSER III since it is the third round of relief funding), including $1.17 billion for public education and up to $291 million for out of school time in Colorado This is an incredible opportunity and the funding we need to reimagine the future for Colorado youth. We must seize this moment to build something sustainable, communal, and equitable.

With these funds, we can take an enormous step closer to reaching every kid in Colorado through high-quality OST and doing it in a way that engages whole communities. Together we can design and implement youth- and family-centric supports that will reduce poverty, proactively address racial and gender equity, and catch up those kids who most need us right now. With a collaborative, coordinated effort to advocate at the local, regional, and statewide levels, we can invest in community partnerships to build a sustainable ecosystem of support for whole child development and whole communities.

CAP has developed this webpage as a toolkit to support Colorado OST providers in advocating for funded partnerships with their local school districts. We recommend using this toolkit in the order of sections below or you can expand specific sections relevant to your current advocacy efforts. As always, CAP is here to support you. We would love to learn more about your local outreach efforts and hear what would be most helpful for you at this time. Please email us at info@coloradoafterschoolpartnership.org to connect or request additional guidance.

How to Advocate for Funding a Partnership with Your OST/Community Organization

First, click here to see:

  • how the total $1.17 billion in ESSER III funds will be allocated to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and local education agencies (LEAs = school districts);
  • how much your school districts are estimated to receive;
  • a current funding timeline and status; and
  • links to all related resources from the U.S. Department of Education and CDE.

As an OST provider, we hope you will advocate to your local school districts to partner with you to provide OST programs for their students using funds from their 20% minimum reserve for learning loss, which explicitly calls out summer and afterschool programs as an allowable use.

While an opportunity of this size requires coordinated advocacy at all levels across Colorado, 90% of these funds will be in the hands of your school districts, which will require local action. Deep community connections and strong relationships with the schools and school districts that the kids you serve attend will be more critical than ever. We encourage you to follow these steps and use their corresponding, detailed sections below to prepare and engage as soon as you’re ready:

  1. Educate yourself
  2. Build your case
  3. Reach out
  4. Educate stakeholders & decision makers
  5. Keep the conversation going
Educate Yourself

Before taking action, make sure you’ve developed a strong understanding of this opportunity, the types of evidence-based programs and practices school districts will be looking to implement to address learning loss. At a minimum, we recommend reviewing the following:

This CAP webpage – you’re more than halfway through!

U.S. Department of Education’s ESSER III Spending Guidelines for States – specifically section II.A (pages 18-24) on expanded learning time


Build your case

Build your case for why school districts should partner with your community organization to provide OST programs for their students. Here are the big questions you should consider and document your answers to:

  • Youth served: Who do you serve now? How can you expand – who can you serve/where and how many students?
  • Quality/impact: What youth outcomes does your program support? It will be important to focus on how your program supports the development of academic, social, and emotional skills. It will also be important to have data/evidence to prove this. Other key questions, based on the U.S. DOE guidelines:
    • How does your curricula/activities align with Colorado Academic Standards and Essential Skills and your school districts’ curriculum?
    • How/does your program target youth needing additional support?
    • Does your program staff include certified teachers?
    • Does your program offer youth any certifications or other benefits upon completion?
    • What does your process for evaluating and improving the quality of your program look like?
  • Community support/engagement: How/does your organization also provide essential services and support (eg, transportation, healthy meals) to students and families? How did your organization step up to serve families throughout the pandemic?
  • Operations: How are you currently operating (ie, program format and length)? How are you planning to operate this summer/next school year? How flexible can you be (eg, for summer programs, can you offer both partial and full day options?)?
  • Funding required: What is the cost of your program? What are your anticipated additional costs related to COVID-19 and operating safely in-person (eg, PPE, social distancing, etc.)? Please consider that programs offered through community partnerships should be free for all families.
  • Proposed partnership: How can your organization/programs support district goals? How can you and your district set and achieve shared goals for students?

Reach Out

  1. Identify key stakeholder relationships and potential connections to decision makers
    • District leadership: Superintendents, chief instructional officers or staff, chief innovation officers or staff, principals, or even afterschool directors where school districts may already have some internal infrastructure for OST programs
    • Local businesses: OST prepares the workforce of tomorrow and supports the workforce of today – local business and chambers of commerce are helpful advocacy allies and connections to your school districts
    • Collective impact/philanthropic organizations: Who can you partner with? Everyone will benefit from creating more, stronger partnerships between schools and community organizations – collective impact organizations, coalitions, and private funders may all be helpful connections to your schools and school districts.
  1. Reach out to everyone you know
    • Use this Template reaching out to school district leadership and staff  (outreach Letter)

Educate stakeholders & decision makers

Once you’ve scheduled a meeting with your school districts, local businesses, or collective impact/philanthropic organizations, prepare for the conversation and equip yourself with supporting materials:

Keep the conversation going

Follow up with all stakeholders and align on next steps. Districts will have until March 24, 2022 to submit the budget for ARP ESSER III School districts maybe preparing to release RFPs and it is imperative that these meetings and conversations continue so that community organizations and OST programs are every school district’s priority when it comes to budgeting and formalizing partnerships.

CAP is here to support you. We would love to learn more about your local outreach efforts and hear what else would be most helpful for you at this time. Please email us at info@coloradoafterschoolpartnership.org to connect or request additional guidance.