Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Schools in Mississippi are about to see a large influx of federal dollars from a second federal coronavirus relief bill passed in December.

The second wave of funding allocated for Mississippi is nearly three times the amount the state received last year from the education portion of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

In December, Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), another stimulus package totaling almost $900 billion. Of that, nearly $82 billion is set aside for the Education Stabilization Fund, the bucket of money designated for K-12 schools and colleges and universities.

A total of $54 billion is for K-12 schools across the nation, and $23 billion goes to postsecondary institutions. Governors will receive $4.1 billion and the remainder will go to the Bureau of Indian Education. Mississippi will receive a total of $1 billion.

This money is divided into the same categories as CARES education funds: The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund II.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II

These dollars go directly to the Mississippi Department of Education, which subgrants the funds to school districts. The funding amount the state received was calculated using the same formula used to determine Title I funding, which are federal dollars given to schools with a high number of low-income students enrolled.

Around $720 million is slated for Mississippi for K-12 schools, compared to around $170 million the state received from CARES in 2020.

Up to 10% of the second round of funding, or about $72 million, can go to the Mississippi Department of Education, and the remainder must go directly to schools.

Public schools can use the money for similar expenses as they did for CARES Act, in addition to two new allowable expenses. Those include administrative and employment costs, coordinating preparedness and response efforts with other entities, addressing the needs of disadvantaged populations, purchasing technology and providing mental health services and support.

They may also use these funds to address student learning loss as a result of the pandemic and for repairing and improving school facilities to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

A district by district breakdown of this funding is not yet available.

This money must be awarded by the state education department to districts by January 2022, and the funds must be spent by Sept. 30, 2023.

Last year, the Mississippi Department of Education used CARES funds to launch its Mississippi Connects program, which provided a device to every public school student in the state. It also includes funding for improved connectivity for school districts, professional development for teachers and expanded access to telehealth for students.

Schools, which have until September of 2022 to spend CARES money, have used funds they received for purchasing personal protective equipment, hiring school nurses and other materials necessary during and after the pandemic. Some schools also put a portion of these funds to fulfill the matching requirement for the devices purchased under Mississippi Connects.

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund II

Approximately $246 millionwas awardedto Mississippi colleges, universities and occupational schools, compared to about $149 million awarded under CARES. As of November last year, postsecondary schools in Mississippi have spent just under 60% of their CARES dollars.

The second stimulus includes two key changes that will allow more students to qualify for money. First, the U.S. Department of Education is no longer limiting aid to Pell Grant recipients like it did with CARES. Second, online-only students, who did not qualify for CARES, are now eligible for emergency student aid.

Colleges and universities are required to spend at least the same amount on student aid as they did under CARES, which can be used for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care or child care. The remaining portion can be put towards institutional expenses from COVID-19, such as lost revenue, payroll and technology costs. (See breakdown of awards by college.)

Community colleges were also awarded more money this time due to a new funding formula that placed greater weight on an institution’s total number of students. (See breakdown of awards by college.)

Occupational schools must spend all their funds on student aid. (See breakdown of awards by school.)

A majority of these funds were made available in mid-January, and a second bucket of additional money will soon be allocated to historically Black colleges and universities. Colleges and universities have a year to spend these funds.

The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund II

This pot of money is distributed to governors, who have broad flexibility to determine how to meet the needs of students and schools, postsecondary institutions and education organizations impacted by COVID-19. The governor will receive an additional $46 million during this round of funding, and $31 million of that must go to private and independent schools.

Last year, GEER funding in Mississippi totaled about $34 million. The governor’s office is still awarding those funds.

Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter at Mississippi Today in partnership with Open Campus.