How is Jefferson Davis County spending federal COVID funds?

Published 5:37 am Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Mississippi received over $2.5 billion from the federal government in pandemic relief money in 2020 and 2021 to improve education and to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a little over a year left to use the money, schools have made progress but still have over a billion dollars left to spend.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund was created initially by the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020 and then subsequently replenished in two other pieces of federal legislation, creating three separate pots of money for states and districts to spend.

Each pot of money has its own spending deadline, Sept. 30 of 2022, 2023, and 2024 respectively. A built-in grace period gives schools a few extra months to disburse final payments, but the U.S. Department of Education also allowed states to request extensions. The Mississippi Department of Education confirmed it received an extension for ESSER I, the first pot of money, with a new deadline of March 30, 2024. Extensions on the second pot are also available, but a state education agency spokesperson said Mississippi has not applied yet.

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School districts in Mississippi have spent nearly all of the funds from the first pot, but progress spending ESSER II and III varies significantly by district.

There are a wide variety of allowable expenses under the ESSER guidelines, but the U.S. Department of Education instructs school districts to prioritize efforts to “safely reopen schools for full-time instruction for all students, maintain safe in-person operations, advance educational equity, and build capacity.”

Mississippi Today analysis of the spending plans in three school districts found that ESSER I funds went primarily to reopening schools — covering sanitation, masks and new technology. Districts focused on addressing learning loss and infrastructure investments when budgeting ESSER II and III.

FutureEd, an education policy think tank at Georgetown University, found that the higher the poverty rate in a district, the more likely administrators were to allocate money to heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) updates and to purchase new instructional materials.

The Mississippi Department of Education also keeps between 7 to 10% of each pot to invest in statewide initiatives and to cover administrative costs.

Districts spent their money in nine major categories, which are described below.

  • Employee salaries: salaries for teachers, professional personnel, instructional aides, and substitute teachers; overtime pay, performance-based salary incentives, and COVID-19 incentive payments
  • Employee benefits: health insurance, life insurance, retirement contributions, unemployment compensation
  • Professional and technical services: educational consultants, counseling services, lawyers, architects, accountants, nurses, data processing services
  • Property services: water and sewer, electricity, communication, custodial, lawn care, construction services, maintenance services
  • Other purchased services: student transportation services, insurance (other than employee benefits), postal services, advertising
  • Supplies: software, gasoline, transportation supplies, food, books, periodicals
  • Property: land, buildings/building improvements, computer equipment, furniture, connectivity equipment, cars, buses
  • Other objects: dues and fees, interest, debt, payments to state agencies
  • Other uses: summer food, indirect costs

In Jefferson Davis County, 87.7 percent of ESSER I funds have been spent. A total of 94.1 percent has been used of the ESSER II allotment and 57.9 of the ESSER III.

JDC had a total allocation in ESSER I of $801,767.00. The county has spent $703.079.72. That breaks down to employee salaries $14,318.10, employee benefits $4,317.23, professional and technical services $102,172.13, property services $36,747.79, supplies $187,847.70, property $337,633.71 and other uses $20,042.06

Total allocation of ESSER II funds for the county was 3,354,952.00. The county has spent $3,156,248.79 with $472,681.09 of that money going to employee salaries and $159,922.22 to employee benefits. Further breakdown of expenditures is professional and technical services $84,744.40, property services $12,625.00, supplies $141,422.10, property $571,561.71, other purchased services $1,964.92, other objects $250.00 and other uses $1,711,077.35.

The total in ESSER III funds was $7,378,285.00 with $4,268,255.10 being used to date. The breakdown of spent funds includes employee salaries $1,014,898.30, employee benefits $346,083.40, professional and technical, services $485,190.62, property services $12, supplies $58,183.89, property $2,251,385.88, other purchased services $3,411.04 and other uses 109,059.97.