State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright

Three state Department of Education employees have been fired and after school programs funded by federal dollars in Mississippi are at risk of being cut or eliminated this school year, State Education Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright said Thursday.

The firing came after state officials discovered a deficit of up to $19.1 million in the state’s federal Title IV program, she said at a press conference. State federal program officials used federal Title I funds to try to make up the deficit, which is not allowed under federal law, Wright said.

As a result, three employees were terminated. State Education officials would not reveal the names of those terminated, calling it a personnel matter.

Wright said that the Office of Federal Programs saw deficits beginning in April and lasting until July of this year. The problem stemmed from program officials awarding 46 new grants last year for 21st Century Community Learning Centers without accounting for 65 grantees that were continuing from the previous year. The program was allotted $14.1 million for the after school program in the 2015-2016 school year, Wright said.

Once they discovered the deficit, state federal program officials then misspent other federal funds to fill the hole, Wright said.

“(The office) continued to use Title I money to pay for reimbursements,” to the school districts for the after school programs required to be funded by Title IV federal money, she said at the press conference. “It’s not an allowable expense for Title I, and that was in direct violation of all the federal program requirements around Title I dollars.”

The incident is “the latest example of what has become a pattern of poor decision-making and mismanagement at the Mississippi Department of Education,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a written statement. “The State Board of Education must remedy this immediately.”

Title I funds go toward school districts with high numbers of children from low-income families for expenses related to the regular school day.

The after school programs, or 21st Century Community Learning Centers, provide after school academic opportunities for students, particularly those in high-poverty and low-performing schools, and are funded by federal Title IV money. The after school programs served about 29,000 students around the state last year. Title I and Title IV refer to sections of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Act that provides federal financial assistance for specific education needs.

School districts apply for reimbursement from the state for the operation of the after school programs, and the state then is supposed to reimburse them from the appropriate federal funds.

“While funds were taken from both 21st Century and Title I accounting sources, the MDE anticipates no impact on Title I disbursements to districts,” a press release from the education department stated.

As a result of the deficit, no new grants will be issued for this school year and other grants may have to be reduced or eliminated entirely.

“Decisions will have to be made regarding which grants we currently have to continue and which to reduce in funding, and all of this will be based on but not limited to the amount of available funds, the number of children impacted, and the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance,” Wright said.

State Education Department officials provided this list of 21st Century program sites for the 2015-16 school year.

 

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Kate Royals

Kate Royals

Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.