The Mississippi Department of Education’s emergency clearance request to spend more than $ 89 million in COVID-19 relief funds for information technology-related services is at its latest hurdle.
With the State Board of Education and the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services Board of Trustees now approving the declaration of emergency, only Review Board approval remains. Mississippi Public Markets.
This council reviews state contracts and may approve exemptions from public procurement laws for agencies and local governments.
The MOE says it needs the statement “because to enter into a competitive market for these products and services would cause a delay which would threaten the health or safety of any person, or the preservation or protection of property.”
The great urgency for the MDE are the deadlines attached to federal funds, with allocation deadlines of January 2022 for the first round of funds and March 2022 for the second round. The department must also show federal officials that funds are committed until September 30, 2023 (first batch) and September 30, 2024 (second batch), which requires an extended contract.
At the SBE’s September 23 meeting, State Superintendent Carey Wright told the board that the MDE has been able to reduce emergency demand to IT goods and services alone, reducing it by $ 231 million. of dollars to over 89 million dollars. The rest, Wright said, would be done through standard procurement processes.
In a letter to the ITS Board of Directors, ITS Executive Director David Johnson said the role of staff is to be neutral while providing the Board with facts, options and an understanding. of its authority in the matter. He said staff did not have a specific recommendation to approve or deny approval.
The SBE approved the declaration of emergency with a dissenting vote on September 2 and the ITS board voted by a margin of 4 to 1 on September 16 to allow MDE an exception to ITS regulations that require that any technological contract is limited to one year. Instead, MDE will be able to issue three-year contracts for the items, which the agency says is required by federal terms with the money.
MDE wants to spend $ 49.5 million on digital learning software for kindergarten to grade eight students in math, grades two to 12 English, and other fields such as science and study social.
The replacement of the Mississippi Student Information System data system will cost $ 14.65 million. The MSIS was the reason the legislature had to appropriate an additional $ 18.4 million in January 2020 for a $ 1,500 teachers’ salary increase that was passed in the 2019 session. interoperability with MSIS and district systems required MDE officials to manually recount the number of eligible teacher positions.
Lawmakers have allocated $ 7.65 million in 2021 and $ 500,000 in 2019 for the replacement of the MSIS.
A school safety platform ($ 14 million) is also part of the statement which the MDE says would help with crisis management plans and crisis response. MDE officials also told the ITS board that this single-source platform would provide “enhanced capabilities in epidemic / pandemic response.” The MDE said at the ITS board meeting that the system would allow the district to manage layers of cameras and other sensors in schools without providing details.
The state is also reportedly spending $ 9.3 million on the Mississippi Education Career Continuum Archive (MECCA) system, which is part of teacher learning and licensing.
The college and career preparation platform is reportedly costing $ 1 million, with that platform dedicated to educating students about study and career choices.
The MDE would also spend $ 500,000 on a vendor to test and validate both the MSIS upgrade and the MECCA system.
These federal funds are a 9.5% holdback by the MDE of the $ 2.5 billion of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Assistance Fund (ESSER) provided by the federal government that was paid to school districts for COVID-related expenses such as distance learning. Most of these funds were issued directly to the districts.