How to Fund High-Impact Tutoring After the ESSER Fiscal Cliff

How to Fund High-Impact Tutoring After the ESSER Fiscal Cliff


The most common question from administrators about K-12 tutoring across webinars, articles, panel discussions, etc., is:

"How will I fund high-impact tutoring after the fiscal cliff?"

First, let's define what we mean when we say "high-impact tutoring," which is wholly different from what most of us think of when we hear the word "tutoring" in isolation.

High-impact tutoring is 1:1 or small-group intervention. It takes place on several days per week, over several weeks, with a consistent tutor, and with content aligned to primary classroom instruction.

High-impact tutoring has also been lauded as our best option to counteract the devastating educational effects of the pandemic. Several high-quality research studies have shown the effectiveness of high-impact tutoring, even when compared to other interventions, such as class-size reduction, teacher professional development, and more.

Especially when considering the incredible impact tutoring can have on student learning and growth, there is a sense of urgency to take advantage of current, unprecedented funding opportunities to implement it now. But what happens in a couple of years when funding returns to pre-pandemic levels? The challenges and urgency will remain the same, but districts need to plan for the so-called "fiscal cliff," when funding will precipitously drop. What will you do?

Six Options Districts Can Use to Pay for High-Impact Tutoring Now, and After ESSER Funding Runs Dry

1. Allocate ESSER funds using multi-year contracts

State education agencies (SEAs) have been very clear: ESSER-funded initiatives should be primarily considered "one-time investments" not to be used for ongoing programming, but you have some leeway to stave off the fiscal cliff if you're willing to be creative. That's because funds must be allocated by 2024 but don't have to be used by then. Check with your SEA and your legal counsel, but you may be able to obligate your ESSER funding to a long-term high-impact tutoring program prior to the looming ESSER deadline, then finish receiving those obligated services by as late as 2028, thus giving you valuable time and space not only to maneuver, but to create invaluable learning impacts for kids.

2. Re-allocate funds from less effective interventions

In a classic Education Leadership article, Douglas Reeves warned about educators suffering from "initiative fatigue" - and that was 20 years ago! To use Reeves' analogy, before planting the flowers - in this case, high-impact tutoring - you must weed the garden. Stop investing time, money, and any institutional energy in interventions that simply don't work.

Time and time again, tutoring has been shown to outperform other interventions in terms of student outcomes. Consider existing expenditures and weigh them against the results you could achieve from high-impact tutoring. As Kevin Huffman, CEO of Accelerate, a new nonprofit organization embedding high-impact tutoring programs in public schools, recently said in a Campaign for Grade-Level Reading webinar, "Stop interventions that don't have an evidence base and replace those with high-impact tutoring."

If you'll get better results from people-powered intervention, consider allocating existing resources to that end.

3. Use state-specific funds

Many states have dedicated pools of additional funds to accelerate learning. Some examples include:

Michigan: Millions may be allocated to tutoring through the MI Kids Back on Track program.

California: The Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Grant provides local educational agencies (LEAs) the opportunity to provide supplemental instruction and support to students, including those identified as needing academic, social-emotional, and other supports.

Maryland: “Maryland Leads is a grant initiative designed to support Local Education Agencies in utilizing federal funds to overcome the learning loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerate student learning to narrow opportunity and achievement gaps, and provide more targeted support for historically underserved students and their communities.” 

See other examples of state-specific tutoring funding here.

4. Use funding allocated to specific student populations or times of day

Title funds:

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is a classic example, as Title I funds provide assistance to LEAs with a high percentage of children from low-income families. Funds have historically been used to support everything from additional instruction in math and reading to special summer programming.

Title III / ELL funding seeks to improve outcomes for English language learners and immigrant students. Use Title III funding not only to improve primary instruction for English learners but also to sustain a high-impact tutoring program geared toward that population.

Opportunities for Extended/Expanded/Out-of-School Time learning:

Many schools have decided to invest heavily in additional summer school/after school opportunities and to continue finding ways to fund them after the ESSER era. Think beyond traditional summer school (remediation and credit recovery) to opportunities for acceleration or a "preview" of the next year's curriculum for targeted groups of students.

5. Connect with local tutoring nonprofits providing services into K-12

North Carolina Education Corps: A paid, trained group of high-impact literacy tutors with a mission of helping North Carolina's K-5 student population.

EduTutorVA: A Virginia-based tutoring program that uses the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment to illuminate student areas of need and address them with research-based practices.

FSU CARE: Florida State University's Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement provides pre-collegiate and collegiate transition and tutoring support for historically underrepresented students matriculating to higher education for the first time.

CUNY Tutor Corps: Focused on STEM education, CUNY Tutor Corps brings students from CUNY colleges into secondary classrooms to tutor.

What other local opportunities might you discover?

6. Offset other costs

Grants and other funding sources that address other areas of need may also be useful, as they can offset other major costs in favor of your intervention initiatives. For example, your district might join the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate Program to realize significant savings on educational technology. Show this savings to your Treasurer and you could make a strong case that all or a portion of that savings should be seamlessly reallocated to establishing (or hopefully continuing) a high-impact tutoring program.

Funding can also have a multiplying effect on existing curriculum investments (like tutoring!). In California, a state large enough to be the world’s 5th largest economy if it were a country, there are always a plethora of opportunities available. For example, you might work with a County Office of Education to train literacy coaches and reading specialists in your school via participation in a competitive grant program. With that initiative fully or partially funded, you’re saving money and/or providing a force multiplier for your high-impact tutoring program. Think creatively to make it happen.

High-Impact Tutoring is Worth Every Penny

You've seen decades of theories and initiatives come and go in education. You've seen school leaders come home from conferences and other professional development opportunities and implement something they thought was promising, only to see it fizzle out when met with resistance or a reality that didn't live up to the hype. High-impact tutoring is different. Research-based, impactful, and sustainable over time despite the looming ESSER fiscal cliff, high-impact tutoring represents your best chance at making a lasting difference for your students, post-pandemic.

See our Littera Education Funding & Grants PDF for more information.

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