Idaho committee OKs $150 million for education funding

A committee helping oversee Idaho’s $1.25 billion share of the federal government’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package on Tuesday approved spending $150 million to help educate students.

The Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee followed Republican Gov. Brad Little’s request from last week and unanimously approved spending $100 million to replace a similar amount cut by Little in 2020 due to pandemic-related budgetary concerns.

The committee also unanimously approved spending $50 million to be made available to parents so they’re less likely to leave the workforce or dip into household money while their children learn amid the challenges posed by the pandemic. That money will be distributed based on income and can be used to purchase educational materials, computers and other services.

The $100 million allocated to Idaho’s 310,000 school kids will be divvied up among schools at $315 per student. But officials are having to use old enrollment numbers that might not be accurate, so the committee left open the possibility of some school districts getting more money later.

Alex Adams, Little’s budget chief and the committee’s chair, said the state has about $200 million left in federal relief money after allocating the $150 million for education.

Shawn Keough, a State Board of Education member and a former Republican state senator, voiced support for Little’s plan.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” she said. “This I believe will be very helpful for all our (school) districts.”

Adams said there was an urgency to get the money distributed given that schools have opened and many students are learning online.

“It’s possible we could get this out as early as Sept. 25,” he said.

The $50 million for the Strong Families, Strong Students initiative program will provide up to $1,500 per child with a maximum of $3,500 per family. Many students are learning at home as school districts try to avoid spreading the virus.

The money will help about 30,000 kids, and Adams said after the meeting that applications would go out in waves based on need until the money ran out. Officials have said that money could help close achievement gaps among students whose families can’t afford internet access or the electronic devices needed to learn remotely.

Republican Sen. Lori Den Hartog isn’t on the committee but has helped plan how to spend the money to keep it within federal spending guidelines, urging the committee to pass the plan.

“I have heard from many constituents who have been trying to balance work and school for their kids,” she said. “The (school) districts are all doing the best they can.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in an email sent 13 minutes before the start of the 1 p.m. meeting said she was unable to participate and asked committee members to delay taking any action.

But none of the members made a motion to delay the committee’s work when given the opportunity.

About two hours before the meeting started, McGeachin tweeted a photo of herself driving a convertible, writing that she was on her way to the central Idaho town of Stanley to meet Donald Trump Jr., who was holding a fundraising event for President Donald Trump. Tickets to the event cost $2,800 per person.

Johns Hopkins University reports that Idaho has more than 35,000 coronavirus cases and 419 deaths.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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