Gazebo Gazette

Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the approval of Mississippi’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) plan and distributed remaining funds to the state.

Mississippi’s plan details how the state is using and plans to use ARP ESSER funds to sustain the safe operation of schools and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As of December, with the help of American Rescue Plan funds, nearly all schools are open for full-time, in-person instruction.

The Department recently issued a new resource to state and local leaders stressing the importance of full-time, safe, in-person learning and how federal funds can be used to achieve that goal. 

Earlier this year, the Department distributed two-thirds of the ARP ESSER funds, totaling $81 billion, to 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The remaining third of the funding to states will be made available once state plans are approved.

Mississippi is receiving more than $1.6 billion total in ARP ESSER funds, and the approval of the state’s plan will result in the release of the final $543 million. 

“I am excited to announce approval of Mississippi’s plan,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “It is heartening to see, reflected in these state plans, the ways in which states are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities. The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to help keep schools open for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The state plans that have been submitted to the Department lay the groundwork for the ways in which an unprecedented infusion of federal resources will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children and build back better.” 

“Mississippi has prioritized in-person learning because it is the most effective way to keep students engaged, accelerate learning and address their social and emotional learning needs,” said Dr. Carey Wright, Mississippi state superintendent of education. “We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Education for its significant investment of ESSER funds in Mississippi. These funds will enable our schools to innovate learning and build strong and enduring systems of support to meet the current and future needs of our students.” 

The ARP ESSER state plans approved by the Department, including Mississippi’s, show how states are using Federal pandemic resources to support safe in-person instruction and meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs of students — with a focus on the students most impacted by the pandemic. For example: 

*Safely Reopening Schools and Sustaining Safe Operations: The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has encouraged districts to consider how to host vaccination drives on school campuses, in addition to sharing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and guidance on safe in-person instruction with schools and districts in the state.

Mississippi schools have also utilized various strategies to increase vaccination rates in the schools and communities. 

*Addressing the Academic Impact of Lost Instructional Time: The MDE will use ARP ESSER funds to support high-dosage tutoring, summer learning and enrichment, and extended day programs through a competitive grant program to address students’ academic, social, emotional and mental health needs that the state is developing. 

*Supporting Physical and Mental Health: The MDE has launched a behavioral telehealth project in response to mental health concerns that may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, staffed by school staff.

The MDE is also using ARP funds for a pilot program to deliver mental and behavioral health care to children and increase educator knowledge about behavioral management techniques. Additionally, The MDE has awarded funds to put 25 new medical staff on-site in schools. 

The distribution of ARP ESSER funds is part of the Department’s broader effort to support students and districts as they work to reengage students impacted by the pandemic, address inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 and build our education system back better than before.

In addition to providing $130 billion for K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan to support the safe reopening of K-12 schools and meet the needs of all students, the Biden-Harris Administration also has: 

  • Held the Return To School Road Trip, a bus tour that visited schools across five states in five days to celebrate the safe return to school. 
  • Announced new mental health resources to provide information and resources to enhance the promotion of mental health and the social and emotional well-being among children and students. 
  • Launched the Return To School Roadmap to provide key resources and supports for students, parents, educators and school communities to build excitement around returning to classrooms this school year and outline how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning. 
  • Released three volumes of the COVID-19 Handbook. 
  • Hosted a National Safe School Reopening Summit. 
  • Prioritized the vaccination of educators, school staff and child care workers. 
  • Provided $10 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing for PreK-12 educators, staff and students. 
  • Launched a series of Equity Summits focused on addressing inequities that existed before, but were made worse by the pandemic. 
  • Released a report on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on underserved communities.  
  • Developed a Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse elevating hundreds of best practices to support schools’ efforts to reopen safely and address the impacts of COVID-19 on students, educators and communities. 

President Biden has proposed critical investments through his Build Back Better Agenda. The Build Back Better legislation will offer universal and free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and, make education beyond high school more affordable—including offering more trainings and apprenticeships, by increasing the maximum Pell Grant and expanding access to DREAMers.

It will also make historic investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and minority-serving institutions.