Governor Tate Reeves delivers the State of the State address Tuesday afternoon on the steps of the State Capitol. Reeves spoke of a better Mississippi through better education, jobs and unity. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves distributed $23.4 million of discretionary federal money in the second round of applications for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds.

The funds went to schools, universities and education organizations providing support to Mississippi students in the areas of social and emotional learning, online learning, device access and returning to in-person learning. 

“We know that the GEER application required a lot of effort, and we received many quality applications from across the state,” said Bailey Martin, press secretary for Reeves.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the nearly $3 billion in GEER funds in April 2020 to “quickly be made available to governors to ensure education continues for students of all ages impacted by the coronavirus national emergency,” the department said in a press release at the time.

The funding is meant to provide relief to schools identifies as having been most significantly impacted by COVID-19. It may also go to colleges and universities in need.

Mississippi received a total of $34.6 million in GEER funds last year, and Reeves prioritized two general categories for the funding: educational services for children under 5 years old and innovative educational solutions for students of all ages.

There are a total of three funding rounds, or chances to apply for the money. For the first round, the governor’s office awarded $5.4 million for educational services for children under five years old. This second round, in which the governor’s office awarded $23.4 million, was for innovative opportunities in education. Early childhood applicants who didn’t initially receive money in the first distribution have another chance to apply for remaining money in a third round. 

About $6 million remains in the pot to be distributed. 

In the latest round of funding, Mississippi State University received $4.3 million for 15 different projects to address several pandemic-related needs. These include improving online learning for K-12 and higher education students and providing mental health services and supporting at-risk students such as those with dyslexia and autism through an Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic. 

The university is also using funding to expand a program that provides support to Mississippi State students nearing graduation who are in need of financial assistance to complete their degree. 

“The proposals funded will not only support MSU students, but provide meaningful resources for our state’s K-12 students and teachers,” said Julie Jordan, vice president for research and economic development at Mississippi State. “We pride ourselves on leveraging our expertise to work with partners across Mississippi to make an impact.” 

The University of Mississippi received about $3.8 million for four projects, including expanding its Mental Health Counselors on Campus program. This will provide counseling services to 400 public school students and an initiative designed to accelerate reading achievement for 1,000 kindergarten through fifth grade students from low-income families. 

Several other public and private colleges and universities, including Mississippi College’s School of Education, received funding for projects. 

Mississippi College is using the $1.1 million it received to launch an Online Instruction and Design program that aims to help teachers develop and conduct standards-based, technology-supported lessons for students. Teachers can take individual courses to satisfy licensure renewal and may also receive a certification after taking a certain combination of the courses, and 30 hours of coursework could be taken in order to achieve a master’s degree.

The North Mississippi Education Consortium — a partnership between 44 north Mississippi school districts, three community colleges and the University of Mississippi’s School of Education — received around $1.5 million to provide research-based programming or curriculum for students at schools or education-related entities. 

The consortium is partnering with Edgenuity, a company that provides K-12 online coursework, to offer social and emotional curriculum to around 144,000 public school students across the state, said Director Jimmy Weeks. They will also be providing professional development for early childhood educators around supporting children who have experienced trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The consortium also received another $170,744 to provide support for at-risk groups such as students with developmental delays including autism and dyslexia. 

Lobaki, a Jackson-based company that develops educational and training “extended reality” experiences, received almost $800,000 for online learning.

Mississippi, along with other states, will also see another wave of federal COVID-19 relief funding for education after Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA). These stimulus funds also include GEER funding, and Mississippi is set to receive almost $47 million. Of that, roughly $31 million must go to private and independent schools.

Reeves’ office said the leftover $15.5 million will be distributed as soon as the first pot of GEER funds have been used.

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.