ESSER Mid-point statewide survey identifies ongoing educational needs, challenges, and lessons learned for K-12 education

March 7, 2023

Top ongoing priorities created by COVID are student emotional support and behavior, unfilled positions, and staff social and emotional support. 

DENVER – K-12 district and school leaders, educators, and community members weighed in on challenges and lessons learned related to the federal pandemic relief funds provided to Colorado schools. As Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds must be fully obligated by September 2024, the Mid-point Survey will inform the limited remaining window of opportunity to effectively spend pandemic-related stimulus dollars in ways that address priorities. 

The survey was initiated by the Colorado School Finance Project (CSFP) as part of their ESSER technical assistance project that began in March 2022. Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) partnered with CSFP on this survey as part of launching Colorado’s Statewide Family Engagement Center grant. The survey builds on the statewide needs inventory work conducted by CEI and the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) in 2020. The survey was distributed by CSFP and CEI to stakeholders statewide January 17 through February 6, 2023 and resulted in 375 responses across 124 school districts and three BOCES, representing 81% of students in Colorado. 

ESSER Mid-point Survey respondents identified the top three ongoing educational needs created by COVID as student emotional support and student behavior, unfilled positions, and staff social and emotional support. These challenges were consistent across stakeholders, with the intensity varying based on the group responding.  

The majority of district leaders identified navigating reporting and compliance standards as a main challenge to spending ESSER funds, followed by challenges filling available positions and hiring. While leaders expressed appreciation for these funds, many indicated the need for more sustainable funding to address ongoing staffing shortages, student social emotional challenges, and performance gaps. Additional survey results will be released in early April that further analyze perceptions by student demographics and by district size and region. 

“With districts at the halfway point in the window of time they have to spend their federal pandemic funds, this data is valuable for district leaders and policymakers,” said Tracie Rainey, executive director of CSFP. “These timely results related to ongoing needs, budget priorities, challenges, communication and engagement methods, and lessons learned will help inform future decisions on how to maximize the benefit of ESSER funds.” 

Survey respondents highlighted several lessons learned and insights to help drive decision-making now and in the future. Many respondents referenced the importance of adaptation as one of the biggest lessons learned during the pandemic, noting the changing needs of students and staff. The limitations of remote learning, including the importance of adequate technology, barriers to high-quality instruction, and mental health issues were central themes as well. In addition to learning gaps, district leaders noted a general concern for equity, while educators specified the additional challenges of economically disadvantaged families and the need for essential services provided by schools.   

“This survey provides a glimpse into the ongoing COVID-19 impact on students, educators, and communities. The ongoing challenges impact both student engagement and teacher recruitment and retention. Family and community members have an essential role to play in the final 19 months of ESSER spending to partner with districts in prioritizing local needs in ways that create sustainable support beyond the timelines of these funds,” said Rebecca Holmes, President and CEO of CEI. 

Survey questions focused on identifying ongoing educational and community needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, district budget priorities, challenges school systems are facing with deploying ESSER funding, communication methods used by districts to engage the public, and lessons learned. View the full survey results, as well as individual district information and ESSER communication resources on the CSFP website. 

About The Colorado School Finance Project

CSFP’s mission is to compile, collect, and distribute research-based, non-partisan information and data on topics related to school finance for state and local policymakers. This survey is part of their Learning and Transparency Program grant from CDE to provide ESSER-related technical and communication assistance to districts and BOCES. Learn more at:  

About CEI

CEI is a statewide nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate systems change to ensure every student in Colorado is prepared and unafraid to succeed in school, work, and life and ready to take on the challenges of today, tomorrow, and beyond. This survey is also a component of Colorado’s Statewide Family Engagement Center grant, focused on building the capacity of families, schools, and communities to address learning recovery and related impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as implement practices and systems to improve student development and family wellbeing. Learn more at: