How to Access CARES Act and ESSER Funding for Your Music Program


These are exceptional times. Schools across the U.S. are working to overcome enormous challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Music educators have the opportunity to be an integral part of schools moving forward, to support their students and school communities in ways they are uniquely qualified to provide. We offer this information to help music teachers move forward in these exceptional times.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Grant Program (ESSER) is part of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act). ESSER provides federal funds to help local education agencies, such as school districts and charter schools, respond to student needs due to COVID-19. With ESSER I & II, federal funds become available to states and schools. Schools must report on funds that have or will be used, to ensure spending is in alignment with the intent of ESSER. States also have a Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), whose process varies by state. Understanding these funding sources’ opportunities and requirements can help music educators build their programs to meet student needs. No stock answer works for all music programs. Your individual school and community needs should dictate the best course of action. We offer this information to help you in these times.

Why should you ask for funding for your program?

To put it simply, as a music educator, you know more about the positive outcomes of music than anyone else in your school. You see firsthand how music positively impacts and brings together students of all backgrounds and abilities. You see the social-emotional benefits proven year after year as students express themselves and develop positive relationships in your groups. You know students who come to school more eagerly because of their involvement in the arts. With this knowledge comes great responsibility. Be an advocate for funding for your program. Why? Because in a school system full of people and causes clamoring for attention and funding, you must make sure your program’s needs are well represented. Those who don’t ask rarely get. Let’s look at some steps you may want to consider in your quest for funding.

Are you in it alone?

Absolutely not. You are not in it alone. You have supporters of your music program all around you, but they likely need some help from you to state the funding need in a way that brings results. For this article, we will not consider boosters, alumni, and other outside sources of funding but will focus on school district funding. Here are some key people to engage with:


Confer with fellow music teachers in your building to coordinate funding efforts if possible. Don’t be discouraged if colleagues don’t immediately see funding pursuit as part of their job. If you feel your program has needs that meet ESSER funding requirements, you may have to go it alone. Remember that sharing your intention, steps, and resources with a coworker may be the catalyst to help them see that success is not just possible but worth pursuing. See a sample email to a coworker at the end of this article.

Music Department Chairperson:

You must notify your department coordinator (department chairperson/supervisor of music/fine arts coordinator/curriculum leader) of your plans to request funding. Through their role as department coordinator and liaison to administration, they could provide terrific support for funding. They also can play a pivotal role in helping other music staff define their needs in a way that aligns with the ESSER/GEER requirements. See the sample email to a department chairperson at the end of this article.


Your building principal is critical to engage with about your funding request. Your communication with your principal needs to be clear and specific regarding how your purchase would make good use of ESSER/GEER funds to accomplish the program’s intended goals and those of the district. It’s likely best to first send an email to request a time to meet and discuss. Your primary goal in communicating with your principal is to make it easy for them to secure the funding you seek from the business administration, superintendent, etc. See a sample email to a principal at the end of this article.

How can school music programs use ESSER funds?

According to, schools can use the funding to purchase items such as supplies for cleaning, products that reduce COVID-19 transmission, technology to support remote instruction, summer or after-school programs, materials to address learning loss, as well as anything that supports children with disabilities, low-income students, etc. See 10 questions about stimulus funding answered.

Music programs provide support for a variety of these student needs, specifically:

Music education supports social-emotional learning

Research tells us that music education and participation in musical performance helps students develop socially and emotionally. The National Association for Music Education states how music develops skills in the three domains of self, others, and responsible decision-making:

“The most conducive environment for SEL is one that includes positive developmental relationships. Music education can provide contexts for those relationships through encouraging collaboration and creativity in a safe environment.”

“Musical experiences can help us connect with deep emotions … providing students the opportunity to reflect on the influence emotions have on their physical and psychological states.”

“Self-Awareness: Compared to other students, those with high arts engagement, including music, exhibit higher levels of self-concept in how they value themselves, their abilities, and their achievements. Specifically, active music education experiences seem to be correlated with measures of self-efficacy.”

“Relationship Skills: Music classes incorporate community-advancing activities which provide students with “opportunities to express themselves, interact in novel ways, and work collectively, practicing and developing interpersonal skills.”

– Excerpts from the NAfME SEL Brochure for Music Educators

More social-emotional learning articles:

Addressing learning loss

Schools endeavor to overcome learning loss that is likely to have occurred over the past year of disrupted and reinvented education scenarios. According to an analysis from McKinsey & Company, U.S. students could fall seven or more months behind academically. Fear of learning loss is real, but we will only know the actual impact over time. However, education researchers have been at work doing predictive work based on past experiences for other types of disruptions, such as natural and weather disasters. Their research on predicted achievement gaps can be found here.

So how does music help with learning loss and achievement gaps? In short, music is good for the brain, encourages engaged learners, and promotes attendance in school. Research shows children who study music tend to have larger vocabularies and more advanced reading skills than peers who do not participate in music. Schools with music programs have an attendance rate of 93.3% compared to 84.9% in schools without music programs. Source: How Children Benefit from Music Education in School

Additional resources on music’s benefit to learning:

Music supports both remote and in-person learning scenarios

Equipment to enable the return to in-person learning

Teachers need solutions to ensure healthy learning environments that promote social distancing, personal hygiene, and sanitizing efforts. The materials listed below encourage safety in the music environment.

Personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies

You may also find helpful recommendations here for handling musical instruments: NAfME instrument cleaning guidelines

Facility and equipment upgrades to promote appropriate distancing and needs for students with disabilities

Summer and after-school arts programs

ESSER funding allows for “planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months…” This funding may be an opportunity to bring students together in after-school and summer sessions to build strong foundations, encourage music literacy, promote engagement through performance, and create positive student interactions in the school setting.

What are the requirements of ESSER, GEER, and CARES Act Funding?

Success in funding your program starts with your requests being fundable, meaning there is a clear correlation that the items you wish to purchase align with the intent of the grant or funds available. Each local education agency (LEA) – a school district, charter school, private school, or other entity – will have its own protocols for accessing federal and state funds. Your job as an educator is to get important information about your program’s needs and benefits to students to the person or persons who can make better funding decisions with that information.

Only your school administration can determine if the materials you request fit into their use of grant and fund dollars. Explore the resources below if you wish to better understand the language and issues around federal and state fund use:

What about funding in future years?

Ideally, you would have an established long-term music education advocacy and funding plan in place in your school. The National Association for Music Education supplies a helpful resource to set up an advocacy action plan: Local Advocacy Action Plan

You’ll want to involve all your supporters in your funding pursuit. Please know that the Pepper staff is here to assist should you need help along the journey. Reach out if you need quotes and bids for materials and equipment. Use our website and blog to find items that will help you accomplish your goals. We are here for you. Stay safe. Let’s make the music happen!

Sample emails:

To a coworker

Hi [Name],

I’m interested in helping build our music program funding to address the needs we have for our students. I’ve prepared information to share with our department chairperson and principal. I’m happy to walk you through it if you think your area also has needs that meet the funding guidelines. The key areas I’m focusing on are:

  • Social and emotional learning
  • Learning loss
  • Personal and group protective and sanitation equipment
  • Enablement of online and hybrid learning

Let me know if you would like to get together to discuss this. I’m hoping to move this along quickly to secure funding if possible.



To a department chairperson

Hi [Name],

I’m interested in helping build our music program funding to address the needs we have for our students. I’ve prepared information to share with my principal and a detailed list of materials I believe will meet the district’s requirements to purchase using the ESSER/GEER funds.

I’m happy to walk you through it or to share this with more music staff as you think is appropriate.

The key areas I’m focusing on support:

  • Social and emotional learning
  • Learning loss
  • Personal and group protective and sanitation equipment
  • Enablement of online and hybrid learning

Let me know if you would like to get together to discuss this. I’m hoping to move this along quickly to secure funding if possible.



To a principal

Hi [Name],

I’ve done some research on funds available to address certain aspects of student learning. I’m interested in helping address certain needs we have for our students involved in our music program. I’ve prepared a list of specific products that I believe addresses the district’s requirements for using the ESSER/GEER funds. I’m happy to walk you through this and answer questions.

The key areas I’m focusing on are purchases that support:

  • Social and emotional learning
    • Item 1
    • Item 2
  • Learning loss
    • Item 3
    • Item 4
  • Personal and group protective and sanitation equipment
    • Item 5
    • Item 6
    • Item 7
  • Enablement of online and hybrid learning
    • Item 8
    • Item 9
    • Item 10

I’m happy to walk you through it or to share this with more music staff as you think is appropriate. Can we meet to discuss this? I’m hopeful we can secure these materials in a timeline that meets the funding requirements.



Kathy Fernandes
Kathy Fernandes
Kathy Fernandes is Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for J.W. Pepper. With her background as a school band director, studio teacher, and ongoing experiences as a flutist and mother of three musicians, Kathy is immersed in music. She continues to be involved in education by teaching middle school-aged students at her church and also serves on its Pastoral Council. Kathy advocates for a healthy musical culture by serving on the Board of the Music Publishers Association of the United States, as an industry representative for the American Choral Directors Association and through participation on the Corporate Advisory Council for the National Association for Music Education and the Support Music Coalition. Kathy is Secretary of Corporation for J.W. Pepper’s Board of Directors, is a Forbes Communication Council member, and is a former member of the Key Executive Group for the greater Philadelphia area.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here