States invest ESSER funds in tutoring but scalability remains a challenge

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Dive Brief:

  • An infusion of federal COVID-19 relief funding is helping states expand high-quality tutoring initiatives, but the work has faced challenges in both quality and scalability, a new report from the Council of Chief State School Officers said.
  • Although states can hold onto just a small portion — no more than 10% — of funds from the nearly $190 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief allocations, the state-level investments have been significant, with academic recovery being the top spending priority, the report said.
  • Balancing quality and consistency with flexibility, along with labor shortages, are some of the challenges to the large-scale tutoring efforts. The CCSSO report highlights state programs, such as those in Tennessee, Louisiana and Colorado, that have worked through some of these barriers.

Dive Insight:

According to the CCSSO analysis, states have dedicated about $4.2 billion of the relief funds for tutoring and accelerated learning. Another $2.9 billion is going toward programs outside of school hours, $1.3 billion for high-quality curriculum and instruction, and $1.1 billion for digital equity and remote learning opportunities.

“There’s several states that are specifically focusing on scaling that high-impact tutoring as part of their strategies, so we wanted to do a deep dive into each of those efforts to see if we can lift up some promising practices and lessons learned that other states can learn from and other districts can learn from,” said Austin Estes, program director of CCSSO’s COVID Relief Data Project.

Of the ESSER state set-aside funds, about 96%, or $18.3 billion as of March 2, has been committed through subgrants or contracts, according to the project. Aside from academic recovery, other investments target staff recruitment, retention and support of staff as well as student and staff well-being.

CCSSO notes that funding amounts are subject to change and that some spending does not easily fit into certain categories the organization is tracking. Therefore, total spending per category may not add up to the total allocated.

Specifically when looking at tutoring investments, states are focused on providing resources to districts through training, guidance and technical assistance to help them implement programs aligned with research-based practices and principles, Estes said.

Sixteen states are investing a total of $470 million in ESSER funds specifically for large-scale tutoring initiatives. A few examples from the report include:


  • Tennessee. The state has dedicated $140 million to support 87 districts with ALL Corp tutors. The tutors work with groups of three or four students in grades 1-8 for 30-40 minutes per session, two to three times per week. Districts set the tutoring schedule and select their own tutors, but tutors must complete a five-module training course.
    State leaders are conducting site visits to better understand implementation barriers and accommodate local needs. The state is also providing guidance to help tutors meet the needs of students with disabilities and English learners.
  • Louisiana. All school systems are being supported with the Accelerate tutoring program, which is funded by $455,000 in ESSER money and another $671,000 from the state. Three to five students in elementary schools and up to 15 students in high schools meet with tutors at least three times a week for 30-minute sessions built into the school day.
    Schools in need of intervention are required to implement Accelerate during both the school year and summer learning programs. The state is supporting districts through professional development offerings.
  • Colorado. The state’s High-Impact Tutoring Program is using $6.4 million in ESSER funds for tutoring at 74 schools in the first year. Up to four students meet with a tutor three times per week during the school day, and students have the same tutor throughout the school year.
    The state is providing ongoing training to tutors and opportunities for tutors to share challenges and best practices. Entities that receive grants to conduct tutoring services in the state get technical assistance through a partnership with Proven Tutoring, a free resource housed at the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University.

Estes said labor shortages are the No. 1 challenge facing states as they build large-scale tutoring programs. While it’s hard to find a simple solution, Estes said there is evidence that state education agencies are ramping up efforts to help districts find tutors. Arkansas, for instance, has an effort underway to recruit and train 500 qualified tutors. 

States are also working with public and private partners to expand tutoring’s reach. CCSSO reports that many states are partnering with vendors and research organizations to help study the impacts of the tutoring initiatives. Colleges and universities also are collaborating with states to evaluate tutoring efforts.

The states’ partners “have been able to kind of provide real-time data to inform ongoing implementation and continuous improvement,” Estes said.

Sustainability of these tutoring initiatives is also top-of-mind for states, the report said. With the last ESSER spending deadline ending in early 2026 at the latest, it will be important for states to consider strategies for maintaining the pandemic investments in tutoring, the report said. 

The spending timeline falls short of what some experts say will be needed for academic recovery, the report said. Full progress toward pre-pandemic learning achievement could take five or more years for certain grades, according to research from NWEA.

That’s where evaluation of tutoring efforts can be helpful in showing proof of return on investments, Estes said. State-dedicated allocations and redirection of federal contributions are other ways large-scale tutoring efforts could be longer lasting — although not likely at current funding levels, he said.

“It would be virtually impossible to sustain these programs at the same scale that they’re able to under the ESSER program without additional recovery funding,” Estes said.

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