In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) is working with local school districts statewide to implement two new pieces of legislation designed to give school districts the technology they need to facilitate distance learning.

As school districts move to hybrid or full e-learning, IT professionals in local school districts are scrambling to get students the technology they need to learn at home. In an Aug. 6 press release, MDE said it was working with local districts to implement funding from two new bills – the Equity in Distance Learning Act and the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act.

The Equity in Distance Learning Act allocates $150 million to school districts to pay for computer devices for students and teachers, software to deliver instruction, enhanced internet connectivity, and professional development for digital teaching and learning. When distributing the funding, the state legislature earmarked $130 million from the bill to school districts based on student enrollment. The remaining $20 million will be set aside for the MDE to distribute based on need. School districts must match 20 percent of the provided funds.

“The MDE has been working with the Legislature since the spring to provide computer devices to all students to equip them for digital learning,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “It is a complex process to supply 466,000 students with computer devices during a global pandemic, especially when other states are competing for the same equipment.”

To support the newly deployed technology, the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act provides $50 million to districts to help expand internet access to students living in underserved areas.

The MDE said that the new devices are expected to be delivered to students from late September through November. School districts that already have laptops for students can use the funding to pay for additional eligible expenses, such as learning management systems, software, and other online tools; costs to enhance internet connectivity; costs to enhance security for devices or connectivity to comply with state and Federal laws; and professional development for teachers and students to implement distance learning.

“The new legislation is designed to put a device in the hands of every student who needs one, ensure students can access the internet when not in a school building, equip teachers to teach remotely, and provide districts with a choice of high-quality options for a digital curriculum and an online system to deliver it,” Wright said. “This is a life-changing opportunity for the children of Mississippi.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs