Education, tourism to get part of City of Vicksburg’s COVID funds

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Education and the city of Vicksburg’s tourism industry will be among the recipients of funding under the city’s plans for its share of federal American Rescue Plan funds. 

Part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is designed to help local and state governments recover from the devastating economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the plan, the city will receive $2.8 million a year for two years; a total of $5.6 million. Mayor George Flaggs Jr. plans to spend $1.2 million — $600,000 per year, or about 21 percent of that total, on educational programs for children including $24,880 for a pilot coding program for children to learn basic programming, design and other computer skills.

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The city’s plan also includes using a total of $62,500 to provide about $10,417 in grants for each of the city’s six museums, plus $211,294 to refurbish and display a trolley car and display a horse-drawn fire wagon.

Flaggs proposed to use about $500,000 to offset budget items in the fiscal 2022 budget that would be allowed under the American Rescue Plan regulations. Because the money will be “one-time funds,” it will not be used for recurring expenses like salaries.

“The goal is to not spend any of this money on more than one time (recurring) expenses,” he said.

Flaggs said he wants to look at the remaining money to see if it can be amortized, or used to borrow money.

Being able to borrow against the money, he said would allow the city to do more capital improvements.

Some of the rescue plan money will be going toward a two-year pilot program to tutor children in kindergarten through third grade to improve reading skills sponsored by United Way of West Central Mississippi.

“This will allow them to read at the third-grade level,” he said. “That’s where we’re losing them. They can’t read when they get to the fourth grade. That’s going to help dropouts and the quality of life for these students.”

United Way Executive Director Michele Connelley met Monday with Flaggs to discuss the program.

“We’re very much in conversation; of course, it will be up to the board (of mayor and aldermen) before anything is final but I’m preparing a proposal,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she said, caused a lot of children to be out of class, creating a large gap in relation to where the children needed to be in order to be prepared for their third-grade reading assessment.

“It is our hope to partner with the Vicksburg School District and the city of Vicksburg to ensure our after-school programming is in line with what the students need in order to fill that gap to the best of our ability,” Connelly said.

She said United Way is asking the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to United Way with funding for the post-COVID education enhancement program.

“This particular program will be in place at several after-school programs within the city,” she said. “We are creating small group intense tutoring for approximately 250 students with scripted, proven curriculum to ensure that there is success.”

Connelly said the tutors would be compensated so they can be held accountable and will be trained in order to ensure that they are providing the right type of afterschool learning for the students.

“Also, we will be reaching out to health professionals to make sure we diminish the student’s fears and anxiety around COVID-19 by providing them the skills that they need in order to keep themselves safe while in the school,” she said.

“The Vicksburg Warren School District is definitely a strong partner in this because you have to make sure that what is happening in school and happening after school are aligned so we are all moving in the same direction,” she said.

As part of the program, Connelley said, students will be pre-and post-tested to monitor their progress.

“It’s not just another program that we hope works. It is a program that had been proven in other communities and we will continue to monitor its success.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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