Mississippi received over $2.5 billion from the federal government in pandemic relief money in 2020 and 2021 to improve education and to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a little over a year left to use the money, schools have made progress but still have over a billion dollars left to spend.
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund was created initially by the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020 and then subsequently replenished in two other pieces of federal legislation, creating three separate pots of money for states and districts to spend.
Each pot of money has its own spending deadline – Sept. 30 of 2022, 2023, and 2024 respectively. A built-in grace period gives schools a few extra months to disburse final payments, but the U.S. Department of Education also allowed states to request extensions. The Mississippi Department of Education confirmed it received an extension for ESSER I, the first pot of money, with a new deadline of March 30, 2024. Extensions on the second pot are also available, but a state education agency spokesperson said Mississippi has not applied yet.
School districts in Mississippi have spent nearly all of the funds from the first pot, but progress spending ESSER II and III varies significantly by district.
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.”
A Mississippi Today analysis of the spending plans in three school districts found that ESSER I funds went primarily to reopening schools — covering sanitation, masks and new technology. Districts focused on addressing learning loss and infrastructure investments when budgeting ESSER II and III.
FutureEd, an education policy think tank at Georgetown University, found that the higher the poverty rate in a district, the more likely administrators were to allocate money to heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC) updates and to purchase new instructional materials.
The Mississippi Department of Education also keeps between 7 to 10% of each pot to invest in statewide initiatives and to cover administrative costs.
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 district-level spending for each pot.
Created By: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
Available through: March 30, 2024 (original deadline Sept. 30, 2022)
Total to Mississippi: $169,883,002
Reserved for statewide programming: $11,182,183
Created By: Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act
Available through: Sept. 30, 2023 (possible extension pending)
Total to Mississippi: $724,532,847
Reserved for statewide programming: $49,614,842
Created By: American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)
Available through: Sept. 30, 2024
Total to Mississippi: $1,628,366,137
Reserved for statewide programming: $155,501,704