Mississippi school districts to be equipped with technology for distance learning

Coronavirus

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Leaders with the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) said they’re working with school districts statewide to implement two new laws. The laws were designed to equip students with the technology to learn at school or at home.

The Equity in Distance Learning Act (SB 3044) provides $150 million to school districts to pay for computer devices for students and teachers, software to deliver instruction, enhanced internet connectivity and professional development for digital teaching and learning.

The Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act (HB 1788) provides $50 million to districts to help expand internet access to students living in underserved areas.

The Mississippi Legislature allocated $130 million from the Equity in Distance Learning Act to school districts based on student enrollment. To help cover funding gaps, the Legislature set aside $20 million for MDE to distribute to districts based on need. Districts must match 20% of funds received.

“The MDE has been working with the Legislature since the spring to provide computer devices to all students to equip them for digital learning,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “It is a complex process to supply 466,000 students with computer devices during a global pandemic, especially when other states are competing for the same equipment.”

The Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) will hold a special meeting on Thursday, August 6, at 10:00 a.m. to give MDE authority to approve grants to distribute funds to districts under SB 3044. The SBE also will vote on contracts that will enable districts to purchase devices and related items for districts’ digital learning plans.

To qualify for the funds, districts must submit their applications and digital learning plans to the MDE by September 1, 2020. Eligible expenses include, in order of priority:

  1. Laptop computers, tablets, or other devices that can be used by a student or teacher in their home
  2. Learning management systems, software and other online tools
  3. Costs to enhance internet connectivity
  4. Costs to enhance security for devices or connectivity to comply with state and federal laws
  5. Professional development for teachers and students to implement distance learning
  6. Health and safety materials for schools

Computer devices are expected to be delivered to districts with approved plans from late September through November. Districts that already have computer devices for students will use their digital learning funds to pay for other eligible expenses the law allows.

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