The Mississippi Department of Education, located in the former Central High School at 359 N. West Street in Jackson, Friday, Mar. 11, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Over the past two years, the state of Mississippi has received $2.5 billion in pandemic relief funds to improve education and help reduce COVID-related learning loss. 

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

All three sets of funds require that 90% of the money go directly to school districts. 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.”

The remaining 10% goes to the state Department of Education, which has broad discretion to use the money for any emergency needs from the pandemic. No more than half a percent of the total amount in each ESSER fund can be used on administrative expenses. 

Thus far, the Department of Education has spent 29% of its ESSER I monies, primarily on updating the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS), digital literacy coaches, a school nurse program, career and technical education equipment, and Pre-K funding. Only 1% of ESSER II money has been spent at the state level, primarily on MSIS updates and digital content subscriptions. 

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

View the charts below to learn more about how this money has been budgeted and district-level spending for each pot.

ESSER I

Created By: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Available through: Sept. 30, 2022

Total to Mississippi: $169,883,002  

Reserved for statewide programming: $16,988,300

ESSER II

Created By: Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act

Available through: Sept. 30, 2023

Total to Mississippi: $724,532,847 

Reserved for statewide programming: $72,453,285

ESSER III

Created By: American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)

Available through: Sept. 30, 2024

Total to Mississippi: $1,628,366,137  

Reserved for statewide programming: $162,836,614 


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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.