Last night, the Mississippi Department of Education issued a revised application for Equity in Distance Learning Act (EDLA) reimbursements in response to school districts’ concerns about some of the requirements. MDE will host a webinar today to answer districts’ questions ahead of the September 1 application deadline.
Additionally, the Mississippi Board of Education yesterday approved the use of $4-million in discretionary MDE funds to help defray the estimated $28-million “variance” that resulted when the contract that MDE negotiated with vendors yielded a higher than anticipated price tag for some devices. The variance means that the cost to many school districts exceeds significantly the 20% match the legislation requires of local districts, making participation in the program difficult for some.
Senate Bill 3044, passed in early July, created EDLA with the intention of closing our state’s digital divide by putting an electronic learning device in the hands of every Mississippi student. The accompanying appropriation provided $150-million to go toward the purchase of computer devices, connectivity, learning management systems, and training needed so that students can continue learning from home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MDE was charged with negotiating with vendors to establish an Express Product List (EPL) from which local districts can purchase digital equipment, with a goal of establishing device prices and delivery dates that are more competitive than what districts could negotiate on their own.
The EDLA legislation allows school districts to be reimbursed for purchases made outside of the MDE-negotiated contract, so long as the devices purchased cost less and meet the specifications, functionality, and delivery date of devices on the department’s EPL.
Local public school and department officials have been burning the midnight oil to ensure that students can continue learning as thousands have been sent home to quarantine due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Districts are making do the best they can until digital devices arrive – which could be as late as November 20.
These are unprecedented times that call for extraordinary leadership, cooperation, and patience. Let’s each do our part, seek solutions to our challenges (so many challenges!), and be kind to one another. After all, together, we’ve got this!