Agency nixes education project, loses $840K in federal money

September 6, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Education has scrapped a $5.5 million software project after spending $840,000 in federal money that it can’t get back, citing “intrinsic technical barriers.”

The Clarion Ledger reports the agency won’t be able to recoup the money spent on a contract with the Massachusetts-based Public Consulting Group for the Mississippi IEP Data Accountability System, or MIDAS. Education officials told the consultants last week to stop working on the effort to create a statewide online database for special education students’ individualized education programs. Those plans, required by federal law, are supposed to outline these students’ services and academic goals.

The project was approved by the department’s previous chief information officer, John Porter, who resigned in November 2017. He cited personal reasons, but had faced repeated questions over computer contracts.

Chief Academic Officer Nathan Oakley said in an email obtained by the newspaper that obstacles on underlying computer systems would have prevented the new system from functioning.

“MDE has determined that intrinsic technical barriers will prevent the system from fully functioning as envisioned without additional, significant investments outside of the scope of the contract,” he wrote in the email to district special education directors.

The project was set to launch Oct. 1. Officials had been planning the new system for two years, raising questions about why it took so long for the agency to discover it wasn’t feasible. The state made six payments to the company between February and July.

Oakley said the user interface appeared to work as expected, but that back-end technology didn’t work.

It’s unclear whether the agency became aware of the problems prior to a review of information technology contracts by Chief Information Officer John Kraman, who joined the agency in the spring. Kraman reported the state would have to have a major investment of time and labor to support the project long-term.

The state had said the system would support districts that were paying for their own computer systems, freeing up local money for instruction, and provide a way to track special education, attendance and discipline records for students transferring between districts. MIDAS also would have made it easier to prepare annual federal reports.

Communication from Oakley indicates some districts had already started to transition away from their online IEP systems in anticipation of the MIDAS launch.


Information from: The Clarion Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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