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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi officials now expect to have $10 million to spend on federally subsidized after-school programs in the current school year.
State Superintendent Carey Wright told the Mississippi Board of Education Thursday that expenses claimed in August came in lower than officials had feared, leaving more money.
"We are developing a plan to distribute that money in an equitable and fair way," saying the plan would be released in coming weeks.
Wright last week suspended federal grants for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, after Department of Education officials mishandled grant money and tried to cover up mistakes by wrongly dipping into another pot of federal funds.
The programs were supposed to serve 29,000 students in 67 districts and two charter schools this year. Some programs that had previously received funding could lose it, and it's unclear if any programs approved for the first time this year will get any money. Wright has said the state will try to channel funding to the most effective programs that reach the neediest children.
"Needless to say, the amount of money they are receiving is not the amount of funds initially granted to them," she said.
Wright said Mississippi is still trying to figure out how to repay $16 million that was improperly spent on the program from federal Title I aid for poor children. Three employees were fired after dipping into that account to make up for overspending from the separate after-school money account.
Mississippi is entering a federal program to cooperatively resolve audit problems. Wright said the state will have to find a way to repay the $16 million "unless the federal government figures out some other way to resolve this." She has also said the department is updating software to better manage grants, will expand financial oversight, and will audit spending from all federal money the department receives.
Wright announced Quentin Ransburg as the interim director of federal programs Thursday.
Gov. Phil Bryant criticized the shortfall as part of "a pattern of poor decision-making and mismanagement" by the department and called for the state Board of Education members to launch an independent review of accounting practices.
Earlier this year, Bryant vetoed a bill that would have extended the department's exemption from civil service rules, partly over concerns that Wright's reorganization was creating too many highly-paid executives. In May, the board cut the salary of Chief Information Officer John Porter after state Auditor Stacey Pickering found Porter was illegally making $195,000, more than the allowed ceiling of 1.5 times the governor's salary.
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