Funding to be used for mental health support, closing learning gaps, address learning loss, preparation for any additional closures due to COVID-19, and more. 

Today, the Mississippi Board of Education (SBE) is hosting a special called teleconference meeting. They will be discussing the consideration of approval for emergency procurements for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, and Mississippi Student Information Systems (MSIS) state funds to deliver systems and supports to school districts in response to COVID-19.

MDE will be seeking to approve a declaration by State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright that an emergency exists in the procurement of technology products and other professional services.

While MDE says it is committed to providing fair and open competition and to performing cost analysis for all funds spent in response to this emergency, “following the lengthy time schedules associated with other procurement methods threatens MDE’s ability to provide critical support to Mississippi students, teachers, and parents in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” They also contend that it could result in a loss of the funding.

Last week, Dr. Wright wrote to the MDE Procurement Director Monique Corley to ask if she would accept Wright’s letter as her approval of ESSER funded emergency procurements by MDE for critical systems and supports to local school districts in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The impact of the pandemic on K-12 student learning is significant in Mississippi,” the letter states. “The execution of emergency contracts using ESSER funds will provide for the prompt delivery of crucial services and systems to the school districts in need during this time… MDE is committed to providing for fair and open competition and to performing cost analysis for all funds spent in response to this pandemic emergency.”

As Wright notes, since March 2020, the federal government has passed three relief packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that provide support for K- 12 schools. ESSER funds are intended to address the impact COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools.

However, Dr. Wright says the U.S. Department of Education has established very aggressive timelines to obligate these funds to keep pace with the evolving needs of states and local school districts.

“Following the lengthy time schedules associated with other procurement methods, threatens MDE’s ability to provide critical support to students, teachers, and parents across the State,” wrote Dr. Wright.

The letter to Corley describes what the funding is expected to be used for, particularly mental health support, educational supports to close learning gaps, address learning loss due to unfinished learning, preparation for any additional closures that may happen due to pandemic waves, health screenings, and cleaning and sanitation.

The Board is considering whether that it is in the best interest of the state to execute emergency contracts, essentially no bid contracts that circumvent the normal procurement processes, using ESSER II, ARP, and state funds ($7.6 million for MSIS 2.0) to provide the prompt delivery of crucial services to school districts in need.

The MDE Board is being asked to allow these contracts for the next three years. That awarded amount should not exceed $231 million over that time period.

Y’all Politics has learned that MDE has known how much ESSER II and ARP funds they would be receiving since January 2021 and March 2021, respectively. Those are the dates MDE could have begun the normal procurement processes.  Additionally, MDE has already submitted a plan to spend the ARP funds to the U.S. Department of Education.

The State Auditor’s office was contacted on this developing story but did not receive a comment at press time. The OSA is responsible for auditing this money and legislators who are concerned about MDE’s decision regarding these funds will be following this action, the length of time in which MDE has known of the spending timelines, and who the recipients will be for these contracts.

You can watch today’s special called MDE meeting online here.

UPDATE:

The Mississippi State Board of Education voted 6-1 to approve to procure services through an emergency process.

They have also started the process for other contracts that will not go through the emergency procurement process. They held the special-called meeting to get approval for the State Superintendent of Education to declare an emergency for the procurement of technology products and other professional services due to COVID-19 because undertaking the non-emergency procurement process would threaten MDE’s ability to respond to the public health and safety needs of our children teachers and parents across the state.

“I think a lot of due diligence on our part has been done and I really have to say hats off to both Mr. Goff and Dr. Gavin who have been the number of hours that have been spent in conversation to get us to this place so I feel like we’re in a good spot and we also want to make sure that we are good stewards of the money that the federal government has given us and we want to make sure that we can expend those funds in in an appropriate manner to help our children,” stated Dr. Carey Wright.