The state education department deemed the Canton Public School District’s federally funded after-school program high risk and may require the district to pay back around $42,000 of federal dollars, according to a recent report.
The federal programs compliance report came several months after a Mississippi Today story highlighted issues in the district, including parents’ complaints that their children’s after school program was inexplicably stopped just months into the school year.
Terrical Travis and Krystal Williams’ children were receiving extra help through the program, called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program. But both received messages from their children’s teachers saying the program was discontinued “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
Williams received the message from her son Ca’Marion’s teacher in November of 2020, and he was not able to receive extra help for the rest of the year. At the end of the school year he was told he would have to repeat the grade.
His mom now says he is in the same grade as his sister and “doesn’t take to school” like he did in kindergarten, where he was named a “star student,” and first grade.
The district has maintained it ran the program at every elementary school through March of 2021.
But the Mississippi Department of Education’s report released late last month found that although the district reported it operated the program from November 2020 through March 2021, “The district halted the 21st CCLC Program in January 2021, and the MDE Office of Federal Programs was not notified of any such program changes,” an Aug. 26 letter to the district from Judy Nelson, executive director of federal programs for the Mississippi Department of Education, said.
LaToshia Stamps, Canton’s federal program director, declined to answer questions from Mississippi Today.
“The monitoring report has been received and reviewed accordingly,” she said in an emailed statement. “No further comments will be available until all areas have been satisfied and cleared respectively.”
As a result, the Mississippi Department of Education will now consider the program “high risk,” meaning the district is subject to drop-in visits from the department officials along with increased monitoring of attendance records, time sheets, and expenditures of funds, said Nelson.
In the letter to the district, Nelson said district officials told the department the discontinuation of the program was due to the schools being completely virtual last year.
Nelson said the district told the Mississippi Department of Education that because school was virtual all year long, an after school program that was also virtual was not effective.
The state also identified $42,618.57 in questioned costs of federal funds spent in the 2019-2020 school year. The majority were for that school year’s iteration of the 21st Century program, including around $3,000 worth of equipment such as laptops and a projector cart that could not be located at the time of the monitoring visit, according to the report.
The report also noted that the district “failed to provide documentation that it remained in compliance of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act ) with Immigrant funding,” or a federal funding source for extra support services for English learners and immigrant students.
If the district can provide the documentation to the department to show the funds were properly spent, they will not have to be repaid, Nelson explained.