CARES Act money helps school districts make technology, safety supply purchases

CARES Act money helps school districts make technology, safety supply purchases

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. (WLOX) - It took a pandemic to make it happen, but by the end of the year, almost every student in South Mississippi will have their own computer to take home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school districts to spend thousands of dollars they didn’t have in their budget, but they will get that money back thanks to the CARES Act passed by Congress this spring.

It will allow districts to achieve what they call one-to-one: a computer for every child.

“We were fortunate that we were in the position to order some one-to-one back in April and May, to order our Chromebooks so that at the beginning of this year we will have the one-to-one for each of our kids,” said Pass Christian Assistant School Superintendent Michael Lindsey.

Many districts made purchases in the spring anticipating the needs that would come in the fall.

They made those purchases with a cash reserve they are required to have on hand. The CARES Act grants will reimburse the districts.

Mississippi will receive around $300 million through the CARES Act for K-12 education in two programs.

$170 million will come through a program called Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER.

The Bay-Waveland district will receive $727,000 and Harrison County will receive $4.3 million.

School districts can spend that money with very few restrictions.

“The districts have pretty broad range on what they can spend this money on,” said Felicia Gavin, COO for the state Department of Education. “Devices, PPE, you name it. Professional development. It’s pretty flexible in terms of how they can spend that money.”

Much of the initial spending was on cleaning supplies, PPE and masks, but it did include technology.

“Purchasing a lot of our PPE and some of our technology that qualify under those funds,” Lindsey said. “All of our PPE, all of our water bottle filling stations that we’re retrofitting in the school, the signage that we’re using in the schools.”

There are lots of signs posted to remind students where to stand, which direction to walk and how to wash their hands.

The other $130 million is specifically for schools to purchase equipment to promote distance learning.

That will come out to about $280 per student, but the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Despite a national shortage of devices, Gavin said schools in Mississippi can expect to receive their orders by mid-November.

The state is making technology orders on behalf of districts that give them more purchasing power.

“So that kind of bumped us to the front of the line as far as availability of product,” Gavin said.

Schools will have until September 2022 to spend the ESSER money,

The money will make a significant difference for both teacher and student safety and quality of learning.

“It’s huge to be prepared for the kids first day when they come in, to be prepared for the teachers,” Lindsey said. “We’ve been able to secure all our technology and actually start training our teachers this summer, and that has been huge also to be able to train the teachers before they get here rather than try to do it two or three days before the kids come.”

It will also have an impact if COVID-19 shuts down schools again.

“Depending on what happens in the future, if we have to go back to all virtual again, every student will have their Chromebook. So I think in the times that we’re living in now it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Lindsey said. “We’re fortunate to be able to have these funds for our kids.”

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