The Ally: August 2020 – Dr. Carey Wright

Dr. Carey Wright
State Superintendent of Education
Mississippi Department of Education

New School Year Brings New Opportunity

The process of returning to school looks different in the 2020-21 school year because of the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Some school districts have had to postpone their first day of school, some started the year with distance learning, and others opted to offer traditional school for most students.

The pandemic that brought our last school year to an abrupt end continues to challenge teachers, school leaders and families. Students with no access to computers or the internet at home were put at a significant disadvantage last year when schools shifted to distance learning. This inequity must be remedied.

That is why the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has been working with the Legislature since the spring to provide computer devices to all students to equip them for digital learning at school or at home.

The result of that work is two new laws. The Equity in Distance Learning Act (SB 3044) provides $150 million to school districts to pay for computer devices for students and teachers, software to deliver instruction, enhanced internet connectivity, and professional development for digital teaching and learning. The Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act (HB 1788) allocates $50 million to districts to help expand internet access to students living in underserved areas.

Once fully implemented, the two new laws have the potential to put a device in the hands of every student who needs one, ensure students can access the internet when not in a school building, equip teachers to teach remotely, and provide districts with a choice of high-quality options for a digital curriculum and an online system to deliver it.

Computer devices are expected to arrive in districts starting in late September. Districts that already have computers for students will use their digital learning funds to pay for other eligible expenses the laws allow.

The Legislature’s $200 million investment is a starting point for bringing equity to education in Mississippi. Further investments will be needed to strengthen and sustain this statewide digital learning initiative so that all students have equal access to technology.
Parents, educators, school leaders, and community members have the same goal: We want students to learn and grow and to be successful in school and life. We all must be committed to ensuring that every child in Mississippi has an equal opportunity and learn, whether they are at school or at home.

Yes, this school year will be a challenge, but I am confident we can rise to this challenge together. Our students are depending on us.

Carey M. Wright, Ed.D., is the Mississippi State Superintendent of Education. Find more information and resources at mdek12.org.

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