Education

Funding cuts loom for after-school programs, state says

D’Iberville Middle School students do their homework at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast IP Center in D’Iberville in August 2011.
D’Iberville Middle School students do their homework at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast IP Center in D’Iberville in August 2011. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

An internal error by the Mississippi Department of Education will result in less funding for after-school programs across the state and in South Mississippi, the department announced Thursday.

The MDE is facing a deficit of up to $19 million in 21st Century grant funds.

The department will not issue new grants next year and may cut current grants from 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a federal program by the U.S. Department of Education.

That grant money is used for community learning centers that provide academic, artistic and cultural enrichment opportunities for students, particularly those who attend high-poverty, low-performing schools. Typically, these programs are offered after school.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast face cuts of $500,000 in state funding for several of their after-school programs in Harrison County and another $150,000 in state funding for programs in Hancock County.

The Coast Boys & Girls Clubs work with schools in Harrison and Hancock counties, affecting about 3,000 children, CEO Keva Scott said.

Thirteen BGCGC programs have been singled out by the MDE. They include:

▪ Bel-Aire Elementary, Gulfport

▪ Pass Christian Elementary

▪ Crossroads Elementary, Gulfport

▪ D’Iberville Elementary

▪ Harrison Central Elementary, Gulfport

▪ Lyman Elementary

▪ Orange Grove Elementary, Gulfport

▪ DeLisle Elementary

▪ Three Rivers Elementary, Gulfport

▪ D’Iberville Middle School

▪ Pass Christian Middle School

▪ North Bay Elementary, Biloxi

▪ Waveland Elementary

Leaders concerned

Several people in charge of programs told the Sun Herald they hadn’t been contacted about the cuts, including Scott.

“We are super concerned,” Scott said. “These are the funds that allow us to make sure our kids are educated, that allow us to get computers for them to use, expose them to STEM learning and tutoring.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and in recent years schools across the country have been pushing such programming.

Pass Christian School District Superintendent Carla J. Evers also is concerned because two schools in her district could be affected by the cuts.

“The Pass Christian School District has a strong relationship with the Boys and Girls Club,” Evers said. “We have approximately 120 students who benefit from academic support provided in their after-school programs. They support our students, academically, physically and emotionally. We would hate to see any marked cuts to programs as a result of the recent MDE release.”

“Many of our children go the Boys and Girls Club. I just know for many of them it’s a life-changing experience. The relationship they make with one another there is something that lasts forever,” she said.

Evers said if the cuts occur, the school district will look into alternative sources of federal funding such as Title I grants.

Miscalculation

The MDE said in a statement the budgeting error occurred when its Office of Federal Programs (OFP) issued 46 new grants in 2015-16 without budgeting for 65 grantees that were continuing from the previous year.

Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, said workers responsible for the error have been terminated.

“OFP issued reimbursements from 21st Century and Title I funds to both new and continuing grantees, which created the deficit. While funds were taken from both 21st Century and Title I accounting sources, the MDE anticipates no impact on Title I disbursements to districts,” the statement said.

The MDE said it is working with the U.S. Department of Education on a plan to fill the deficit and minimize the impact to grantees. Details will be released once they are finalized, the MDE said.

“We are working rapidly and seriously to take steps that will minimize impact to grantees, to ensure accountability for individuals who ignored financial checks and balances, and to put systems in place to ensure accurate future budgeting,” Wright said in the statement.

“My highest priority is to ensure we serve schools, families and taxpayers with integrity,” she said.

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