(SHNS) – Only about a third of the $2.9 billion in education funding authorized by the federal government since the COVID-19 hit has been spent, leaving “a lot of money on the table,” according to a top state education official.

During an EdImpact Research Consortium briefing Tuesday morning, Matt Deninger, chief strategy and resource officer at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding for Massachusetts was authorized in three tranches: about $200 million at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, $739 million in December 2020, and $1.66 billion more in April 2021.

“You have a lot of money here … in rapid succession,” said Deninger, who tried to put the funding in context by noting the state’s annual Title 1 federal education grant is about $230 million. Deninger said the funds have gone to all 400 school districts, with aid geared especially toward helping economically disadvantaged students. While the initial funding authorization has been almost fully claimed, Deninger said that about 60 percent of the second tranche has been spent, and only about 17 percent of the third and largest tranche. Addressing unfinished learning is the largest single category of ESSER spending, Deninger said, and other outlays have addressed mental health, summer and after-school programs, indoor air quality, COVID response, education specialists, and technology needs. Everett School Superintendent Priya Tahiliani said funding flexibility has enabled the school to respond to shifting conditions. ESSER funds have been used for robotics programming, social/emotional curriculum, adult learning, library overhauls, tutoring, and hands-free hand dryers, she said. “The ESSER dollars really have been crucial to ensuring our recovery,” Tahiliani said.