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After-school programs scaled back amid reduced funding

Posted September 16

— Mississippi officials say they only have enough federal money to subsidize after-school programs for a quarter of the students they originally projected to serve.

The Mississippi Department of Education said Friday that because employees mishandled grant money earlier, the state will only be able to spend $5.6 million of the state's $14.6 million allotment for after-school programs. The other $9 million will go to reimburse school districts and nonprofit groups for costs they incurred earlier, after employees awarded too many grants.

That means that instead of a program that was projected to reach 29,000 students in 67 school districts it will only reach 7,000 students in 28 school districts.

State Superintendent Carey Wright acknowledged Friday that the decrease would pose problems for parents who were counting on the programs and that students who had been enrolled in programs with strong academic content could suffer.

"It's unfortunate that this has occurred," Wright said. "But the part to me we have to keep our eyes on is the school day is when the majority of work gets done."

After consulting with the U.S. Department of Education, Mississippi officials decided to use the reduced amount of money to meet commitments to programs in the fourth and fifth years of their grants. Programs in the second and third years of their grants, where the federal money covered a larger share of operations, will get no money.

State officials say they don't know how many of the affected programs opened this fall, and it's unclear how many will continue to operate without federal money. In Jackson, for example, Operation Shoestring was supposed to get $250,000 to support a program at Galloway Elementary School. Robert Langford, the nonprofit group's executive director, said Operation Shoestring opened programs at Galloway and a second school, thanks in part to a donor, but did not open as planned at third school. He said the group hopes to continue through the year, but is looking for money to pay for it.

"We are trying to figure out how to pull a rabbit out of a hat," Langford said.

Wright said Mississippi is still trying to figure out how to repay $7.6 million that was improperly spent on the program from federal Title I aid for poor children. Three employees were fired after improperly dipping into that account to make up for overspending from the separate after-school money account.

Wright said that funding would rebound after this year, and said the state would take fresh applications for new programs. She said the programs that had their funding cut off would have to reapply.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy .

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