As the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) winds down, we know that education companies anticipate a tighter market. K–12 companies must position themselves as indispensable school and district partners to secure renewals. However, there are ways you can start working with educators now to protect the successes you’ve achieved together and ensure your programs and products remain in their budgets.
In our October 2023 CB&A Expert Series Event, policy analyst Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of Advocacy and Governance at the AASA — The School Superintendents Association, shared an overview of the education funding landscape and insights into the decisions education leaders are likely to face as they spend down their ESSER funds and prepare for next year.
Navigating a New Education Funding Landscape
Between March 2020-2021, the U.S. Department of Education delivered more than $180 billion to local schools in three waves of ESSER funding. In the last wave, ESSER III included $119 billion that schools must obligate by September 30, 2024. This money helped schools address the impact of COVID-19 in various ways, as they pivoted to remote learning, reopened and then worked hard to address student learning loss.
“District leaders face financial pressure as these ESSER grants wind down, while they also anticipate a reduction in the overall federal education budget next year, including possible cuts to Title I funding,” Ng said.
State and local education funding could also be at risk for some districts. The possibility of a 2024 recession significantly impacts educators at the state and local levels—where schools receive most of their funding. Inflation also remains a concern, as prices remain higher than before the pandemic and school districts have to do more with less.
Another factor, declining enrollment, due to a decreasing birth rate and more parents sending their children to private schools or pursuing homeschool options, could also decrease the amount of money schools could receive from state and federal government.
Prioritizing for the Future
As superintendents consider all of the factors that could impact education funding, they’re working to prioritize their budgets to protect student learning, Ng said. In a June 2023 AASA survey, school officials reported that they’re already paying close attention to the 2024-2025 school year.
Since 2021, district leaders have consistently reported that they will spend their money in the following ways:
- 59% — increasing spending on instructional time and opportunities
- 59% — investing in high-quality curriculum materials
- 58% — adding specialist staff
- 55% — investing in teacher planning and professional development
The survey also revealed that:
- 86% of district leaders said sustainability in a post-ESSER world was a top priority or strongly considered sustainability as they looked at their ESSER expenditures.
- Since 2021, the long-term priority list for district leaders has included expanding whole-child supports, services and programs.
- Other long-term priority investments included renovating and rebuilding school facilities and engaging high school students.
- As the deadline draws near, so does the likelihood of the areas of the largest investments seeing the biggest cuts.
“Have you ever found yourself in your grandma’s or mom’s kitchen, looking at concentric cookie cutters that are circles that get smaller and smaller?” Ng said. “That’s a great way to think about how districts protect their funding. They try to avoid cutting things directly impacting instruction, such as teachers or curriculum. If more cuts need to be made, they are likely to be on programs that are least likely to impact students.”
Cuts don’t just happen in a vacuum. They are meticulous, deliberate and purposefully made by superintendents and the support of local school boards, Ng said. Those involved engage in thoughtful discussions, raising questions such as:
- Which categories should get cut, and which should be preserved?
- Who are the stakeholders we need to consider?
- What other factors inform our LEA’s decision?
Even if schools are similar in size and demographics, their leaders might make very different spending decisions based on what’s happening in their communities. The impact of a local employer leaving or cutting jobs, increases in property taxes, or health indicators such as chronic illnesses can all impact what programs get cut.
“Understanding the ‘whys’ behind districts’ decisions is important,” Ng said. “These distinctions matter because they influence how dedicated a district is to protecting or reversing cuts and shows how they will prioritize funding when resources become available.”
During conversations with superintendents, you must gauge what programs and services they’re determined to protect at all costs. They likely have a hierarchy of programs they’d like to preserve and might be able to share insights into what they’d potentially cut if necessary, Ng said.
“Recognizing the intersection between their needs and interests and the services or products you offer is crucial,” she said. “You can ask them what you can do to help them protect an explicit service or program that’s a priority or help them realize program and fiscal efficiencies within their budget to sustain those programs. Helping them allocate state and federal resources can also be instrumental in helping them achieve program continuity.”
How Can You Retain Customers and Ensure Renewals?
At CB&A, we know that a strong content marketing strategy can help you connect with education leaders and ensure your products and services get funded. Education marketers can take five specific actions now, ideally positioning themselves for retention and renewals despite any funding headwinds.
- Align your products and services with each customer’s strategic goals—Show evidence of usage efficacy and alignment with case studies, media placements and efficacy studies.
- Shout your customers’ successes—Leverage media relations to celebrate the schools and districts you’ve positively impacted publicly.
- Engage with stakeholders in your community—Consider communicating with parents and caregivers through their preferred media channels.
- Make renewals everyone’s business – Build marketing campaigns that involve your customers through case studies and positive media coverage to draw them closer to your brand.
- Offer customers help finding alternative funding sources—Talk to education leaders about their funding options and create content that guides them to lesser-known funding sources.
Want to maximize your sales and marketing efforts to ensure you make the ESSER cut? Watch our October Expert Series event replay or read ESSER Ends in 2024: 5 Tips for Customer Retention and Renewal.