Legislature designates some CARES Act funding for distance learning improvements

Legislature designates some CARES Act funding for distance learning improvements

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Remember all the talk about Mississippi receiving $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act money? Part of that money will now be directed to schools across the state.

School districts will have some flexibility in terms of how they’ll reopen in the fall, but most don’t have flexible budgets to make big changes to how students learn. That’s where the legislature is stepping in.

“To make sure that they’re able to teach children under this whole new concept of distance learning,” said Sen. Scott DeLano. “The largest bucket of money is going to be used to establish a grant program for putting technology in students’ hands.

“We felt like we needed to help districts with purchasing one-to-one devices,” explained DeLano. “We want every student to have some type of a laptop or tablet device.”

“It includes $130 million for all districts,” said Rep. Kent McCarty. “It’s going to be distributed by average daily membership. Every district will get the same amount per pupil with that portion of the money. And then there’s a 20 million dollar portion of that that will be distributed by MDE based on need.”

There are also a couple of bills that address internet issues. COVID-19 magnified some of those.

“For a lot of districts it was lights out, go home and we’ll print your packets,” described McCarty. “And that’s all they could do. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s just how can you prepare for something like this that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.”

SB 3046 puts 75-million-dollars into a long term broadband plan for under-served areas. While HB 1788 puts 50-million-dollars into short term internet access solutions. That will come in the form of grants to districts needing to work with providers to get students and teachers access to internet service in areas that don’t currently have it.

“They may have to come in closer to maybe a volunteer fire department or maybe even a school bus that has a mobile hot spot attached to it,” said DeLano. “But we needed to give MDE and the school districts some flexibility with 50-million-dollars to be able to plug in holes where necessary.”

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