The chairman of the Senate Technology Committee told the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services Board Thursday that he still has concerns with IT spending of federal funds by the state Department of Education.
State Sen. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi, told the governing board that he has already been contacted by a lobbyist for a firm (which he didn’t identify) about their product, which would be $14 million of an $89 million package.
MDE told the ITS board in September that the school safety platform ($14 million) would assist with crisis management plans and response to crises and was essential to the agency’s response to the pandemic. The MDE said that the system would allow district to manage layers of cameras and other sensors at schools without offering any specifics.
Out of the six contracts to be awarded by MDE, ITS Executive Director David Johnson said one project — the replacement of the Mississippi Student Information System data system at a cost of $14.65 million — already has a solicitation for bidders out since last month’s ITS board meeting. The others will likely be out by month’s end.
“The school safety program is something that I continue to scratch my head at,” DeLano said. “I’m concerned about the necessity for this program under an emergency procurement process and the way it was presented to the ITS board with very little background information.”
He said that he’d requested additional information on the project from the MDE but hadn’t heard back from them since the September meeting.
At that meeting, the board voted with one against to endorse the request of the MDE to provide extended contracts to its vendors for its planned IT procurement with federal COVID-19 relief funds. One-year contracts are required for ITS-related procurements, but the ITS board can waive these requirements, giving MDE the right to provide vendors with three-year contracts as required by federal regulations.
The MDE says it needs the emergency declaration (that was approved by the state Board of Education in September) because undertaking a competitive procurement process could cause a life- or property-threatening delay.
One reason for the declaration is MDE is closing in on deadlines to spend the federal money. Regulations require contracts to be awarded by January 2022 for the first round of funds and March 2022 for the second round. The department also must show federal officials that the funds are obligated through September 30, 2023 (first batch) and September 30, 2024 (second batch), which requires an extended contract.
MDE wants to spend $49.5 million on digital learning software for grades Kindergarten through eighth grade mathematics, second through 12th grade English language arts and other areas such as science and social studies.
These federal funds are a 9.5 percent holdback by the MDE from $2.5 billion from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund provided by the federal government that was disbursed to school districts for COVID-related expenses such as distance learning. Most of these funds were issued directly to districts.