The CARES Act Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) will provide financial assistance to each Mississippi school district to help address the numerous challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The amount received by each school district will be roughly 70% of the district’s yearly Title I-A allocation. Districts must provide equitable services to nonprofit private schools choosing to participate.
National controversy has resulted from conflicting interpretations of the method of calculating the private school equitable share under the CARES Act. The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) has considered this issue and concluded that the CARES Act section 18005(a) text requiring school districts to “provide equitable services in the same manner as provided under section 1117 of the ESEA of 1965” requires Mississippi school districts to calculate the private school equitable share using the ESEA section 1117 method of identifying the “low-income” qualifying students in public and private schools and dividing the district’s allocated funds proportionally. Contrary guidance issued by the United States Department of Education will not be followed.
An example of the proportioning method used by Mississippi school districts is as follows:
A school district has 1000 students enrolled in K-12. 950 of these students qualify as low-income. A single private school located in this district participates in ESSERF equitable services. 500 students are enrolled in K-12 at the private school, 50 of whom qualify as low-income. The 950 public low-income students and 50 private school low-income students comprise the public-private proportion. The proportion of ESSERF funds received by the private school will be 5% of the district’s total allocation.
Having apportioned the funds, public and private schools may utilize funds to assist all students and teachers through any of twelve broad categories of activity tailored to address the challenges posed by COVID-19. As with ordinary equitable services, ESSERF equitable services will be administered to the private school by the school district, which retains ownership of any equipment purchased – however, use of the equipment by the private school is unlimited aside from the Constitutional prescription of secular, neutral and nonideological use.