Schools, state slowly spending federal COVID-19 money


JACKSON, Miss. (Mississippi Today) – Since the pandemic began, Mississippi has received a windfall of cash from the federal government for K-12 education, though millions remain to be spent.

The state received $46.9 million in federal stimulus funds for education in January of this year, $31.3 million of which was for independent and private schools in the state. The Mississippi Department of Education distributed that money, called Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools, to 51 schools.

The remaining $15.5 million, from the second round of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund, will be spent at Gov. Tate Reeves’ discretion. Despite an impending deadline of January 2022, it has yet to be distributed.

“The Governor is reviewing the final projects, and we’ll be excited to announce them once they’ve been finalized,” said Bailey Martin, Reeves’ press secretary.

The GEER funds are just one pot of federal money public education in the state received over the course of the pandemic. 

Since March 2020, Mississippi has received around $2.5 billion in Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to address the impact of COVID-19 on schools. The money came in three streams.

At least 90% of that total goes directly to school districts, and the remainder, a total of around $237 million, went to the Mississippi Department of Education. The department has spent $2 million so far, mostly on technology efforts, according to spokeswoman Jean Cook. 

The rest will be spent on health screenings for students, teachers and staff; addressing learning loss or providing additional supports to close learning gaps; mental health support; among other purposes. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, recently requested and was granted emergency procurement status for about $89 million of the funds to more quickly enter into contracts by federally imposed deadlines.

The department advertised it is dedicating $3 million to provide educational technology, mental health services and supports, sanitization, summer learning and afterschool programs among other services to districts with pre-K classrooms. 

Schools spent the first round of ESSER funds to aid cleaning and sanitation, upgrading HVAC equipment, hiring school nurses, offering after-school and extended school year programs and a myriad of other efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on students.

The Mississippi Department of Education is still reviewing school districts’ applications for the second and third rounds of funding, according to Cook. Districts have spent a total of about $41 million of the $652 million they received from the second stream of ESSER funding, which came from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) passed in December 2020, said Cook.

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