The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is working with school districts statewide to implement two new laws 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 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 the 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 next step in this process will take place at 10 a.m. today, when the Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) meets for a special-called meeting to give the 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 Sept. 1. Eligible expenses include, in order of priority:
- Laptop computers, tablets, or other devices that can be used by a student or teacher in their home
- Learning management systems, software and other online tools
- Costs to enhance internet connectivity
- Costs to enhance security for devices or connectivity to comply with state and federal laws
- Professional development for teachers and students to implement distance learning
- 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.
“The new legislation is designed to put a device in the hands of every student who needs one, ensure students can access the internet when not in a school building, equip teachers to teach remotely, and provide districts with a choice of high-quality options for a digital curriculum and an online system to deliver it,” Wright said. “This is a life-changing opportunity for the children of Mississippi.”