The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the CARES, CCRSA, and American Rescue Plan Act all provide federal funding for school construction and maintenance. In addition, through Act 9, the General Assembly extended the Indoor Air Quality Grant through Efficiency Vermont established in the fall of 2020, by appropriating an additional $15 million through the American Rescue Plan State Fiscal Relief Fund, which lasts through December 2024. Finally, there is potential additional federal support for school infrastructure improvements. Together, these federal funds represent a significant opportunity for schools to address health and safety in school facilities, but also create a need for a formalized process of technical assistance, review, and support to ensure that LEAs meet the federal requirements surrounding construction projects.
LEAs using federal funds for school construction can use one or more funding sources, as well as local resources on a single project. The project must be allowable under all the funds used, and the time frame is important, as each of the ESSER funds and other funding sources have a different timeline for use. To be an allowable use of ESSER funds, projects must include costs related to inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement, or upgrade to either improve indoor air quality or comply with social distancing, hygiene, or other health guidelines.
All construction projects that use federal funding sources must go through an approval process with the Agency, as required by Federal law. The agency has created this webpage, an application review process, and technical assistance resources to assist LEAs in completing construction projects that use federal funding sources.
Questions regarding school construction using federal funds should be directed to the AOE's Federal Construction team at AOE.email@example.com.
School Construction with Federal Funds Training
- School Construction with Federal Funds Overview
- Concept Approval and Project Approval in GMS
- School Construction with Federal Funds GMS and Assurances Training Video
LEAs that intend to use Federal funds including: ESSER I, ESSER II and ARP-ESSER (ESSER III) funds for construction or minor remodeling must also comply with all applicable state and Federal requirements. Uniform Guidance (2 CFR 200.439(b)(3) requires LEAs to receive prior approval from the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) for construction projects and minor remodeling projects.
The AOE requires LEAs to submit a two-part application consisting of Concept Approval and Project Approval in the Grants Management System. Failure to obtain prior written approval (Project Approval stage) before breaking ground on the proposed project may make the costs associated with the project unallowable to the Federal grant.
Please note: the AOE strongly urges LEAs to submit the required materials and information in the Project Approval stage 30 days before the project is set to begin (break ground).
Below are the general steps for receiving approval for a project utilizing federal funding. More detailed information and guidance is available in the Construction with Federal Funds Guidance.
- Project Identification
- Determine ownership of the property
- Determine the source(s) of funding for the project
- Determine the timeline (start and end date) for the project
- Complete the requirements for Concept Approval in the GMS Application for Construction with Federal Funds (Project Narrative and Concept Approval Assurance Tabs) and submit
- Apply for federal funds in grant application (Please note: all projects included in ARP ESSER must meet the Interim Final Rule requirements for meaningful consultation)
- Complete plan development and obtain all required permits
- Complete Project Approval requirements in the GMS Application for Construction with Federal Funds and submit as an amendment
Guidance and Application for Construction with Federal Funds
- Construction with Federal Funds Guidance
- Application for Construction with Federal Funds (GMS)
- ESSER Funds Hub Page
- US Department of Education ESSER and GEER Allowable Costs FAQ
- Memo: Federal Requirement for Written Prior Approval to Purchase Equipment
Definitions and Key Federal Regulations
Construction: “(A) the preparation of drawings and specifications for school facilities; (B) erecting, building, acquiring, altering, remodeling, repairing, or extending school facilities; (C) inspecting and supervising the construction of school facilities; and (D) debt servicing for such activities.” 34 CFR §222.176(a)
Minor remodeling: Minor alterations in a previously completed building, for purposes associated with COVID-19. The term also includes the extension of utility lines, such as water and electricity, from points beyond the confines of the space in which the minor remodeling is undertaken but within the confines of the previously completed building.
Maintenance: “Costs incurred for utilities, insurance, security, necessary maintenance, janitorial services, repair, or upkeep of buildings and equipment (including Federal property unless otherwise provided for) which neither add to the permanent value of the property nor appreciably prolong its intended life, but keep it in an efficient operating condition, are allowable...” 2 CFR § 200.452
Please note: Projects that fall under the Uniform Guidance definition of maintenance (2 CFR 200.452) do not need to be submitted through the Application for Construction with Federal Funds in GMS. Instead, maintenance projects should be included as an investment in the federal grant application. However, LEAs should bear in mind that though the project may not be considered construction it may involve the purchase of equipment and/or other capital expenditures that may require prior written approval (see 2 CFR 200.439).
Please note: The following is not an exhaustive list. Please refer to the Construction with Federal Funds Guidance for a comprehensive list of all federal regulations that LEAs must bear in mind while working on projects that utilize federal funds.
- 2 CFR 200.439(b)(3) Equipment and other capital expenditures
- Per 34 CFR §75.603 Ownership and Title
- 2 CFR §200.318-327 General procurement standards and regulations
- EDGAR 34 CFR §75.607 General considerations in designing facilities and carrying out construction
- 2 CFR Part 200, Appendix II & (Webinar Chapter on Appendix II) Contract Provisions for Non-Federal Entity Contracts Under Federal Awards includes:
- Equal Employment Opportunity
- Davis-Bacon Act
- Byrd Anti-Lobbying Amendment
- Debarment and Suspension
- Clean Air Act
- Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act
Links to Resources
Historic Preservation Determination - Due to the amount of anticipated number of projects that will be funded with ESSER funds statewide the AOE will be assisting Historic Preservation with a preliminary determination on review eligibility for the project.