Editorials

Coast students suffer for Jackson’s mistakes

Popp’s Ferry Elementary School students in Biloxi hop on the Boys & Girls Clubs IP Center bus Wednesday. Several Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast no longer provide after-school transportation from area schools because of budget cuts.
Popp’s Ferry Elementary School students in Biloxi hop on the Boys & Girls Clubs IP Center bus Wednesday. Several Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast no longer provide after-school transportation from area schools because of budget cuts. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

It’s hard to imagine a state agency handling a mistake and its aftermath as badly as the Mississippi Department of Education.

Because someone at the department double-dipped into a federal grant program, the children of the Mississippi Coast and their parents could suffer.

That $19 million mistake could result in children of working parents losing their rides to after-school programs unless Coast school districts are able to provide bus service themselves.

Schools on the Coast didn’t learn they would lose their 21st Century grant funding until school had started and budgets counting on that money had long been established.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast would have been the recipients of $650,000 in federal 21st Century Education Grant money. That’s about a third of their budgets.

To make up for the loss of funding, the shuttle programs at 13 schools have ended. And 20 members of the clubs’ staff could lose their jobs or have their hours cut.

The clubs received grants last year that were supposed to last for up to five years. But someone at MDE mistakenly issued 46 new grants this year without making allowances for the 65 grant recipients that should have continued from the previous year.

▪ There are a couple of things we don’t know:

▪ Who decided which programs kept their grants?

▪ What were the criteria used to make those decisions?

We asked MDE but as of Friday afternoon, we had received no response.

“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,” state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said in a statement released Aug. 11. “My highest priority is to ensure we serve schools, families and taxpayers with integrity.”

As far as we can tell, we’re waiting for those steps three weeks later.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated instance. There have been questions about Wright’s salary (about $300,000 — or more than three top state leaders combined), sole-source contracts and MDE’s flip-flop on the transgender bathroom issue.

This is not the leadership Mississippi needs to get off the bottom of education rankings.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.

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