Adult Education Eligible for School Relief Funds: Act Now to Support Adult Learners!

Funding could be available to your adult education program if you advocate for it.  As record levels of education relief funds flow into states, it’s critical for adult education leaders to understand what funds support adult education activities.  Both ESSER and GEER funds can support adult education.

ESSER is The Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund and its allotments are disbursed to State Education Agencies (SEAs) and through them to Local Education Agencies (LEAs).

There are actually two ESSER funds:

  • ESSER, which is part of the American Rescue Plan (signed into law March 11, 2021) and is a continuation of the ESSER fund that was included in last year’s CARES Act
  • ESSER II, which is part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Relief Act (CRRSRA, signed into law December 27, 2020)

GEER is the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. This fund was set up in the CARES Act and has received additional funding through the CRRSRA (GEER II). Governors disburse these funds to LEAs, institutions of higher education, and “education-related entities.”

New Guidance Includes Adult Learners

Recent guidance from US ED includes information specifically on use of funds for AEFLA.

 C-21. May ESSER and GEER funds be used to serve adults, including English learners, who are eligible to be served under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act? 

Yes. An LEA may use ESSER and GEER funds for any activity authorized by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), which is Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. These activities could include:  

  • Conducting outreach activities to re-enroll eligible adults who may have discontinued their attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic; 
  • Providing career counseling for eligible adults who suffered job loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; 
  • Purchasing technology (including laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, or tablets) that enable adult learners to access virtual instruction; 
  • Professional development for adult education instructors in the effective implementation of online learning; 
  • Providing instruction to improve digital literacy of adult learners, including English learners, to improve digital access and inclusion; 
  • Assessing the skills and educational progress of adult learners using virtual assessment tools; and 
  • Accessing PPE and cleaning and disinfecting classrooms used during the regular school day so that they may be used for adult education and literacy activities in the evening.

The bulleted list is helpful, but the introduction to the list includes this key statement noting that ESSER & GEER funds can be used for “any activity authorized by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA).”

CARES Funding Supporting Adult Learners

In the fall of 2020, Literacy Minnesota received CARES act funding through the State Librarian at the Minnesota Department of Education to add a Supporting K-12 Distance Learning assessment and instructor led curriculum on the Northstar Digital Literacy platform. As a result of the pandemic, many parents were responsible for helping their children navigate the world of education through distance learning platforms. This Northstar topic drew from some of the most commonly used Distance Learning platforms to teach parents how to help their children with skills such as uploading an assignment, checking schedules, and communicating with teachers and classmates. This unit topic also covers information on troubleshooting problems, synchronous classroom etiquette, and parental controls. While intended for parents of school-age children, this unit topic is also useful to adults who will be participating in distance learning themselves. The Northstar Digital Literacy assessment and curriculum are both available for free.

In California, Santa Barbara Community College’s School of Extended Learning (SBCC)   and implements intensive, online Integrated Education and Training (IET) programs for English language learners, such as Personal Care Attendant, Green Gardener (landscaping), and Construction. Some of the IET programs target unemployed community members who have been laid off due to COVID’s impact on the economy. Thanks to federal CARES Act funding, these students receive $200/week to attend these intensive IET classes remotely. In contrast to the intensive IET courses, SBCC’s standard English as a Second Language (ESL) program offers a “light-touch” option: open-entry, less formal learning circles offered remotely. The learning circles are a regular part of the ESL program offerings.

Take Action

The first step is creating your advocacy ask and then contacting the right stakeholders.  Access to ESSER funds involves working with your state or local education agency (SEA or LEA). Access to GEER funds involves approaching your governor’s office.

Also, it is important to note that funds from both ESSER I and II “may be used for pre-award costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared.” So if your state or local program blew the budget to keep learners connected, here’s a chance to refill your bottom line and continue building toward your new adult education vision.


Judy Mortrude is a Senior Technical Advisor, World Education, Inc. and currently serves as the president of the National Coalition for Literacy.

Theresa Sladek is the National Partnerships and Northstar New Business Specialist at Literacy Minnesota and works with organizations to ascertain and implement their digital literacy needs. Theresa also works with Literacy Minnesota’s national Open Door Collective program on poverty reduction through literacy.

NOTE: For more information on ESSER, see the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education information page and fact sheet comparing ESSER and ESSER II. For more information on GEER, see the FAQs and information page.