JACKSON, Miss. – Education advocates are urging state leaders in Mississippi to use the millions of dollars the state is receiving in federal emergency funding to advance equity and support children and families disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 school closures.
The Mississippi Department of Education is set to receive nearly $170 million in funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and at least 90 percent of those funds will go to districts across the state. Gov. Tate Reeves will separately receive approximately $34 million as part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER Fund) under the CARES Act. The law gives states and districts significant discretion on how these funds are spent.
In a letter sent Friday to Reeves and state Education Superintendent Carey Wright, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Action Fund’s Mississippi office, the Children’s Defense Fund’s Southern Regional office and six other groups warned that without a strategic investment of resources, the opportunity gap between students could widen during the pandemic due to inequities in access to technology, space to learn and caretaker support.
The letter offers a framework for how state leaders can provide leadership, guidance, and support to districts in use of the emergency education funding to advance educational equity during the pandemic. It also urges the state to use its share of the funding to target schools with the highest proportion of children of color, children experiencing homelessness or financial hardship, children with disabilities, children in immigrant families, children in foster care, LGBTQ children and children in the juvenile justice system.
The groups also recommend that the state establish a task force made up of a diverse group of parents, educators, students, counselors, advocates and other education experts to help guide the state’s plans for the new funding and ensure that evidence-based decisions are made to reduce or eliminate educational inequities. In Mississippi, fewer than 10 percent of families have broadband access, and Mississippi ranks last among all states in the number of households with computers.
“With millions of federal dollars for education relief coming to Mississippi, Governor Reeves and Education Superintendent Carey Wright have an opportunity to ensure that the thousands of children across Mississippi who are unable to attend school in person due to the coronavirus have the supports they need to continue learning at home,” said Brandon Jones, policy director for the SPLC Action Fund.
“Students with disabilities and low-income students will likely face some of the biggest hurdles, including a lack of access to technology, school meals, and health and mental health services. In this time of crisis, they no doubt will need a substantial amount of resources to support their learning. We urge state leaders to use the money wisely for their benefit.”
Other groups signing the letter include the Families as Allies; Mississippi Association of Educators; the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities; the Mississippi Statewide Afterschool Network; One Voice; Parents for Public Schools, Inc.; and the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative