Gov. Brad Little wants to use about $150 million in federal coronavirus aid money to restore cuts made to K-12 education in Idaho and issue grants to families.
“Families continue to face many challenges as they rapidly adapt to changing circumstances in their children’s education,” Little said Friday during a press conference.
Little issued an executive order in July announcing a 5% cut to each state agency for fiscal year 2021, including $99 million for public schools. K-12 education had escaped prior rounds of cuts for this fiscal year, which were passed by state lawmakers in March.
As Idaho Education News reported, Little foreshadowed the cuts in May, which included teacher raises and a drop in classroom technology spending.
The U.S. Treasury Department updated guidance on how federal aid dollars could be used last week to include the reopening of schools and backfilling budgets.
The $99 million would be divvied up by school district based on student enrollment. Districts would have discretion on how to use the money as long as it’s coronavirus-related.
Little’s announcement was met with open arms by the Idaho Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
“Opening our schools safely requires additional personnel and resources, and this restoration of funds will enable school districts to better meet the needs of students,” said IEA President Layne McInelly.
Part of the $99 million in funding cuts included teacher pay raises, which McInelly should be restored “to the greatest extent possible.”
Grants of $1,500 per student, up to $3,500 for families of K-12 students are expected to be handed out next month to help offset new technology costs or reduced work hours for parents trying to help their children learn at home.
“I know there’s people that are spending money to help their kids at home and they’re going to have to wait a little bit and I’m sorry about that, but that’s just the way the rules are,” Little said.
The $50 million in grants are expected to help up to 30,000 kids, or about 10% of all public school students.
State board of education members would oversee the grants, which board president Debbie Critchfield said would be prioritized for low-income families.
Further details of the program still need to be approved by the governor’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Council, as well as the state board of education.
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