Summer programs still robust for 2023, but future slowdown looms

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Summer learning programs remain robust heading into the fourth summer after the pandemic began, as they continue to be bolstered by federal COVID-19 emergency funds and heightened attention to academic recovery and mental well-being. 

Some education leaders, however, are anticipating fewer offerings in future years or a need for alternative funding sources as spending deadlines near for the last of the COVID federal allocations.

To be clear, a slowdown in summer planning hasn’t occurred yet, according to Aaron Dworkin, CEO of National Summer Learning Association, a nonprofit that supports summer programming for children. In fact, he said, local partnerships districts have created in the last few years to offer summer programs, and technical assistance provided by state and national entities to help with planning, are still going strong. 

Districts are also starting to plan for their summer programming earlier in the preceding school year, he said. “The word is out that this is a wise strategy and investment that people should be focusing on,” Dworkin said.

He said that while there are real concerns about the winding down of federal relief funds, there’s acknowledgment of the benefits summer programs provide to students. “I think more and more districts and states see this wasn’t just something good to do in a crisis — this makes sense,” Dworkin said. “We should be investing in kids all year round in different ways.”

Spending on summer

Research into spending plans for ESSER III, also known as the American Rescue Plan, shows hardy summertime investments, according to data services firm Burbio. Of 6,500 district spending plans totaling about $92 billion in ESSER III spending that the firm has analyzed, more than 4,000 districts have dedicated some $6.5 billion for summer, after-school and extended day activities. Total ESSER III funding is $121.9 billion.

Academic-focused ESSER III spending in general has “really kicked into gear,” said Burbio Co-Founder Dennis Roche, who shared the data with K-12 Dive. Academic learning loss and intervention is the largest ESSER III spending category, according to a recent Burbio analysis.

“I think more and more districts and states see this wasn’t just something good to do in a crisis — this makes sense. We should be investing in kids all year round in different ways.”

Aaron Dworkin

CEO of National Summer Learning Association

The influx of federal COVID relief money has allowed districts to expand and refine summer offerings. During a NSLA conference last October, several district leaders spoke about how their schools shifted away from a remedial approach to enriching and academic-based offerings that are appealing to students. 

Research has highlighted benefits to school-based programs held over the summer months. Summer math learning programs, for instance, can effectively mitigate pandemic-related learning losses disproportionately experienced by low-income pre-K-12 students, according to a 2022 meta analysis by the American Educational Research Association.

Planning for 2023

Some localities, however, are planning to pull back on the robust summer offerings they provided over the past few years. According to a survey released last fall by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, 57% of superintendents reported they will decrease or end summer learning and enrichment offerings currently being offered to students by September 2024, the current obligation deadline for ESSER III.

Cincinnati Public Schools is trimming its 2023 summer programming due to a decline in dedicated ESSER appropriations, said Kathryn Robinson, media relations associate for the district, in an email. 

Not all schools will host the Ohio district’s Summer Scholars programs like in recent years, and the program is only open to students in grades 2-12. Students in grades 2-3 are eligible for the 3 ½ week program by invitation, all students in grades 4-8 are eligible, and students in need of credit recovery in grades 9-12 are eligible. 

High schoolers who are eligible can attend summer classes virtually or in person. All students with disabilities can participate in summer offerings. 

A student has a virtual reality headset on their head and face and is guiding the program with a hand remote.

Students in Cincinnati Public Schools’ Summer Scholars program have opportunities to participate in project-based activities and credit recovery courses.

Permission granted by Cincinnati Public Schools


In total, the district expects to serve around 5,000 to 7,000 students this summer. The final budget for Summer Scholars 2023 will be determined in May once overall enrollment and vendor management is set, Robinson said. The district partners with local agencies and organizations for enrichment opportunities for students during Summer Scholars.

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