Optimizing ESSER

Iconergy is ready to assist with navigating the best strategy to optimize ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Funds), so you don't have to spend hours reading through hundreds of pages of obtuse language in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Iconergy’s team of experts have done our homework and are excited to help your K-12 school system make improvements to protect the learning environment.

How to Get My School Open Faster?

Making K-12 schools safer and more comfortable for students and staff is a two-part strategy for getting school back to normal as quickly as possible while remaining safe. Part one is addressing immediate needs of the students and staff while the second part is investing in long-term strategies for the hurdles of the future.

IAQ Affects Learning

For K-12 school districts focused on safety and health, modern updated facilities are one of the best investments of ESSER funds. By making improvements to your facilities, students and staff will feel safer and more confident returning to normal operations and parents will be less worried about facility risks.

With Iconergy’s engineering expertise, there is an opportunity for K-12 school facilities to benefit from improved operating conditions than before the pandemic and achieve reduction in annual energy usage, which will allow the school system to save money and provide a better education experience. Those savings can be reallocated to provide more services, resources, and higher quality learning for generations to come.

Indoor Air Quality Improvements for Schools

Indoor Air Quality is an often-overlooked factor in many facilities. While many people are aware of outdoor air pollution and its risks; many people are unaware that according to studies performed by the EPA on human pollutants, indoor air quality is often 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air quality. (1.)

Indoor air quality standards for K-12 schools recommend 15 cubic feet per minute (CFM) per student in the classroom. The measurement should also include staff. To prevent the spread of COVID-19. Currently, most U.S. classrooms circulate air around 6 -11 CFM. (1.)

Multiple studies conducted by the EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) have ranked indoor air pollution as the 5th highest environmental risk to the public's health. (2.)

EPA insight: Nearly 1 in 13 children of school-age has asthma, which is the leading cause of K-12 school absenteeism due to chronic illness. (3.) There is substantial evidence that indoor environmental exposure to allergens (such as dust mites, pests, and molds) plays a role in triggering asthma symptoms. These allergens are common in schools.

Temperature, humidity, and general comfort are important as many students’ grades suffer if they are uncomfortable or sick while inside the school buildings. Coronavirus will not be the last or only airborne virus that K-12 schools will have to face, and it would be wise to take proactive steps to ensure preparedness for the future.


ESSER Funds for School Improvements

While the language and funding of the ESSER I and II was limited; ESSER III gives a broader list of uses for local education agencies and K-12 schools.

Section 18003 of Division B of the CARES Act provides in relevant part that grants awarded under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund be used to support the ability of local educational agencies (LEAs) to continue to provide educational services to their students.

  • School facility repairs and improvements to enable operation of schools to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards and support student health needs. ARP Act Section 2001(e)(2)(O). 
  • Purchasing supplies to sanitize and clean the facilities of a local educational agency, including buildings operated by such agencies. 
  • Inspecting, testing, maintaining, repairing, replacing, and upgrading projects to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including HVAC systems, filtering, purification and other air cleaning, fans, control systems, and window and door repair and replacement. (4.)

Examples of ESSER Applications

By investing in energy efficiency and resilience, K-12 schools can turn this short-term funding boost into long-lasting improvements in facilities, which will affect the learning and health of students both currently and in the future.



Projects to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and non-mechanical improvements. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification and other air cleaning, fans are easy places to start making improvements. There are even many no-cost actions K-12 schools can take such as adjusting setpoints.

Comfort improvements like control systems, and window and door repair and replacement. As well as general inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement, and upgrades can make schools more durable. This will reduce future spending on repairs created by extreme weather or normal wear and tear.

Building Tune-Ups (retro-commissioning) - assessment and implementation of operational and maintenance improvements to achieve energy and water efficiency. Examples of operational fixes include changes to thermostat set points, adjusting lighting, or irrigation schedules. Tune-ups also review HVAC, lighting, and water systems to identify needed maintenance, cleaning, or repairs - for example replacing faulty sensors.


Even K-12 schools that are recently built or seem to have all systems working properly can benefit from several smart applications of ESSER funding. Preparing for and navigating evolving expectations for the future is another important use to consider. Schools can use ESSER funding to gather insight about their facility through activities such as benchmarking, facility master planning, conditions assessments, and optimization.

Getting an Audit

Collect, Analyze and Implement

Why should you hire a professional engineering firm?

The Iconergy team of experts has done our homework and are excited to help your K-12 school system make improvements.


Iconergy is composed of experienced energy engineering and design-build experts who have come together through their shared commitment to one principle: How customers are served is just as important as correctly calculating BTUs and delivering projects on time and on budget.

Iconergy is a company of experienced energy engineering and design build professionals who have come together through their shared commitment to excellence in program and project management. Having the right technical answer is only part of the solution - appropriate project management, communication, and follow-up make the project a success.

Our staff possess an average of over 20 years of experience providing professional energy engineering and commissioning services to public, private, and nonprofit sector clients.

What is ESSER?

ESSER is a subsection of the CARES Act, which was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law in March 2020. A small but signifigant portion of the CARES act went towards education. (chart 8.) It was intended to help schools better meet the needs of students and education facilities in the K-12 school system while dealing with the Coronavirus Pandemic.


Where did ESSER funding come from?

ESSER sector breakdown

In March of 2020, the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) which allocated over $30 billion for a national education fund for Primary and Secondary education. Of that $30 billion, approximately 44% went directly to local education agencies in charge of Elementary and Secondary school systems.

Colorado received $120 million towards its 863,561 students which is only $139 per student.





With the Pandemic lasting months longer than expected, K-12 schools quickly ran out of extra funding and many systems needed more to bolster programs to help safely open and sustain safe operations. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was signed into law on March 11, 2021, almost exactly one year after the original CARES ACT was signed into law.


In this new bill, Colorado received over $1.1 billion in ESSER III funding, which is roughly ten times the previous amount in ESSER I and II and equates to $1,350 per student. However, K-12 schools will be expected to create a plan for utilizing the funds within two months of receiving them.

While similar to ESSER I and II, ESSER III has some important additional uses from which K-12 can benefit. The rules for spending the funds have also been changed allowing K-12 systems to use the funding for more long-term focused projects rather than spending it on something that has only short-term benefits.

The law requires the U.S. Department of Education to award funds to states within 60 days of its enactment with the ability to use funds until Sept. 30, 2023. The Tydings amendment allows an additional 12 months to use funds extending the use until Sept. 30, 2024.

Below is an extremely helpful chart provided by the Afterschool Alliance. It details the current timeline for ESSER funds.

ESSER timeline