Mississippi state Superintendent Carey Wright told the Senate Education Committee Wednesday that the Legislature should waive the passing requirements for two statewide tests for third grade reading and end of course assessments for high school.
The Mississippi Department of Education recommends that statewide assessments take place as scheduled to both meet federal requirements and assess the impact of COVID-19 related disruptions that saw students move from a in-person learning environment to a virtual one.
“I do believe this needs to be a year of grace for our schools and for our teachers and for our children,” Wright said.
Also, the superintendent told lawmakers that K-12 education in the state will receive more than $724 million from the latest federal COVID-19 relief act that was signed into law on December 27 by President Donald Trump.
“We’ve got the most money ever in the history of the federal government coming down for K-12 education and that’s going to put your team and us in a situation where we’re running our usual deadlines and we’ve got this money and we need to decide how best to have our local districts spend it,” said state Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson.
He also said that legislative deadlines would lead to lawmakers having to “build this airplane while we’re flying” when it came to deciding how to disperse the funds.
The MDE will also allow districts and schools to retain their letter grade in the accountability scores from the 2018-2019 school year for the 2020-2021 school year.
She also said the Legislature should consider more funding for pre-Kindergarten collectives, hiring more literacy coaches and buying more digitally based instructional material.
She also said the Department of Education needs $3.5 million to complete the critical overhaul of the Mississippi Student Information System, which compiles educational data from the districts for teachers, students and administrators. Errors with this aging system led to an undercount of teachers eligible for a $1,500 pay raise passed in 2019 and necessitated a deficit appropriation at the beginning of last year’s elongated session.
Of the 23,000 students left Mississippi public schools, Wright told lawmakers that she believes most of them will return to public schools once COVID cases fall and more people receive COVID vaccines.
Enrollment fell by 5.26 percent from 465,913 last year to 442,627 this year.
As for the measures passed last year to improve distance learning, the MDE says 148 out of the state’s 150 districts purchased devices under the Equity in Distance Learning Act (325,000 of them through state bulk purchases and 65,000 ordered by districts independently). Of the $149.7 million in CARES Act federal funds appropriated under the program, 98.6 percent have been expended.
As for the Mississippi Pandemic Broadband Availability Act, 144 districts and all of the Choctaw tribal schools participated in the program, which has expended 78.9 percent of the appropriations ($39.4 million of $50 million). The purchases included Wi-Fi hotspots, fiber optic cables and even a few cell towers were built by several districts to expand access to remote-learning students.