Students at ReImagine Prep charter school participate at a Saturday hackathon event funded by 21st Century grant dollars.
Students at ReImagine Prep charter school participate at a Saturday hackathon event funded by 21st Century grant dollars.

Schools and districts across Mississippi are preparing for the likelihood that there will be no federal funding for after-school programs that serve about 29,000 students.

While State Superintendent Carey Wright said at a press conference last week some programs could be cut instead of eliminated entirely, an Aug. 12 email from Chief Academic Officer Kim Benton to schools paints a starker picture.

“To be clear, there is a strong probability that there will be no 21st Century funding available for the 2016-2017 school year,” Benton wrote.

Last week, three state Department of Education employees were fired after a deficit of up to $19.1 million was discovered in the state’s federal Title IV program as a result of overspending in the 2015-2016 school year. When the deficit was discovered, officials in the federal programs department used federal Title I funds to fill the hole, which is not allowed under federal law.

Most of the after-school programs were slated to begin in September.

While the Mississippi Department of Education maintains that officials’ improper use of Title I funds will not impact districts’ Title I funding, it is not clear how the issue will be remedied. State education officials have declined to provide details of how they plan to resolve the budget shortfall.

U.S. Department of Education officials said that because Title I funds are allocated by law, it is not able to reimburse MDE for any funds that may have been misused.

The federal officials said they are working with the Mississippi Department of Education but did not provide specifics as to what will be done.

Students at Greenville Public School District's health fair, funded by 21st Century funds.
Students at Greenville Public School District’s health fair, funded by 21st Century funds.

Greenville Public School District will be forced to discontinue its after-school program, which focused on numeracy and literacy, for between 300 to 500 at-risk students. The district has used the funds for 15 years.

“The issue coupled with chronic underfunding of MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) leaves us unable to sustain the program unless we find another revenue stream,” Superintendent Leeson Taylor said.

Jackson Public School District, the largest urban district in the state, uses funds from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers for programs that serve 650 students in the district.

Jackson schools spokesperson Sherwin Johnson said the district has earmarked more Title I and local funds to replace 21st Century grant money for after school programs, summer school and part-time tutors.

The Jackson charter school ReImagine Prep uses the funds as well, not only for after school programs and its monthly computer programming, or hack-a-thon, on Saturdays, but for parts of the extended school day as well.

“We used some of it during the school day for programming such as book club, literacy instruction, and used some of it for after school clubs a couple times a week,” said Kate Cooper, director of growth and advancement for RePublic Schools, the organization that oversees ReImagine Prep.

She said RePublic was also hoping to use the same grant funds at its new school Smilow Prep, which opened this year.

“It would definitely be a disappointment not to be able to offer 21st Century program, but hopefully we can find another way to fund these projects rather than drop them entirely,” Cooper said.

Mississippi was awarded $14.1 million for 110 after-school programs last year.

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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.

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