As news of the latest COVID relief package from Congress trickles into the inboxes of superintendents across the country, it can be tempting to move quickly with these funds to shore up immediate needs and return our school systems to as “normal” as we can in a continuing time of disruption.

The funding relief passed in December is four times the amount provided to K12 schools in the prior CARES Act of March 2020. Also, it’s worth mentioning that a third round of stimulus funding to support schools is currently making its way through Congress. This suggests that additional resources may arrive later this year. These disbursements of relief funds are arriving at a critical time. This timing is enabling leaders to apply what they’ve learned during the pandemic to make our institutions the best they can be for the future ahead.


ESSER/CRRSAA funds are designated for specific uses. Some examples include:

  • Provide school leaders with the necessary resources to address the needs of individual schools.
  • Recruit, train and retain high-quality teachers, principals and other school leaders.
  • Improve school conditions for student learning – provide all students with access to a well-rounded education.
  • Engage families in education programs to improve student learning.
  • Implement evidence-based activities to meet the comprehensive needs of students
  • Administer and utilize high-quality assessments to assist educators in meeting students’ academic needs.

There will be urgent and unavoidable costs for health and safety as leaders consider the best use of relief funds. However, beyond the immediate needs, some institutions may decide that the federal relief funds are an opportunity to build a foundation for sustainability and growth across the organization. What will education need to look like in the future? Can we start preparing for that now?

Here are a few ideas to consider while planning to make a lasting impact using federal relief funds:

  • Build Organizational Capacity by Developing People
    • Provide skills training and development to employees around daily work and the need to understand the technology and the impact on the future of education.
    • Prepare employees at every level to lead in an uncertain and continuously shifting landscape.
    • Building the continuous improvement muscles of your leaders and staff to apply data and analysis to improve.
      • For example, tackling tough challenges like student learning loss or families’ desire for better virtual learning options.
  • Study the Bright Spots
    • Strengthen future planning by pausing to analyze our current learning, successes and opportunities with a curious mindset. Where do you find significant trends or success?
    • Using this analysis, determine the appropriate next steps based on the success of your current bright spots.
  • Engage in Scenario-Planning
    • Carefully analyze your current performance data to identify the gaps that need attention.
    • Apply a scenario-planning process to consider investments in the most meaningful resources that will make a difference for students’ learning.
  • Ensure Safe, Effective, Service
    • Connect with operational leaders to refine safety protocols and ensure effective ongoing training for all employees.
    • Design a plan to achieve a standard of excellent (and safe) service to all stakeholders.


To determine the best plan for your organization, ask these important questions:

  1. What do we most want to accomplish with this financial investment?
  2. How will we know if our investment is successful? What will we measure along the way? How will we report on progress? What will success look like in the end?
  3. What current structures and resources will we need to align to support the investment?
  4. Who is responsible for developing and executing the plan of action to achieve success?
  5. What will be our key messages for communication about our choices?

As you consider options in response to these questions, consider defining their pros/cons through scenario planning, like this:

Possible Investments: Pros

(What gaps would this fill? What impact would we expect, for whom?)


(What might go wrong? What barriers might we face?)


(What current structures and resources will we need to align?)

What key messages would we use? (What’s the WHY that responds to emotion?)
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3


Many organizations will promise that their products (technology, curriculum, equipment) can make the greatest difference for schools. However, the greatest opportunities for lasting impact will be found in learning from these experiences and defining a successful future—one that looks a little different than what we left behind in 2020. When we create the systems, develop people and select the best options to support our progress, we can step forward with a strong foundation for whatever challenges are on the horizon.

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