Madison County School System has received a total of $16,834,244 from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funds, a federal COVID-19 relief plan, to help with the new challenges and costs that arose as a result of the pandemic.
“From the very beginning of the pandemic, new and different costs arose for schools,” Superintendent Charlotte Seals said. “Expanding digital platforms for distance learning, providing take-home technology devices for all students, and making sure that personal protective equipment is available for teachers and students are all very important but all come with a cost.”
The first wave of ESSER funds became available in March of 2020, and the grant was approved for use in October of that year. It consisted of $1,117,434 to be spent by September of 2022 and has gone towards learning management systems and online courseware and various cleaning and disinfecting efforts. These efforts include maintenance staff and professional custodian services, which includes deep cleaning and carpet and floor cleaning. Additional school nurses were also supplied through this first wave, along with PPE equipment and supplies of disinfectants, hand sanitizer, face masks, and sneeze guards. ESSER I also made it available for the schools to install hydro stations, which are water bottle filling stations instead of drinking fountains.
“More cleaning also means more cleaning supplies, which in turn incur more costs,” Seals said. “Some of the ESSER funding has enabled us to provide additional nurses and mental health specialists on our campuses to help students stay healthy physically and mentally.”
ESSER II is being used to address learning loss through summer school, summer enrichment programs, academic tutoring, courseware, technology advancements and instructional supplies. School nurses were also funded again in this second wave of grant money along with behavioral health therapists, maintenance staff and continued PPE equipment and supplies. ESSER II, which is $4,904,157 that must be spent by September of next year and was approved in June of 2021, also allowed for the installation of bi-polar ionization systems into HVAC at all school sites.
“One of the most important pandemic expenses has been providing additional academic resources and support, such as tutoring and summer school, for students who may have experienced learning gaps because of pandemic challenges,” Seals said. “Other pandemic response expenses include the installation of bi-polar ionization systems in all Madison County Schools’ buildings to clean the air and additional janitorial services for deep cleaning of school facilities.”
ESSER III was applied for in the spring of 2021 and is in the approval process currently with the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), which will determine how Madison County Schools allocate and spend the $10,812,653 they will receive. These funds are eligible to be spent through September of 2024.
“The proposal includes funding for programs related to learning loss, including in-school tutorials and summer learning recovery programs,” Director of Communications Gene Wright said. “The proposal also includes funding for school nurses and mental health therapists. It also includes funding for entry modification projects at several sites across the district as well as HVAC system renovations. Again, these plans are, at this point, only a proposal as we await final word on approval from MDE.”
While ESSER I and ESSER II funds have been allocated for their uses, they are still being spent and ESSER III will allow that money to stretch out even further to help with learning loss and continued safety efforts.
“The funds we have received already and should receive from the next wave of funding allow us to afford pandemic adjustments without impacting other critical aspects of our budget,” Seals said. “Even in the midst of a pandemic, our goal remains to provide high quality teaching and learning and keep students on the path to success beyond their school years.”