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Feds approve extension for Idaho to file plans for latest round of stimulus funds for schools

The Idaho State Capitol reflected in the Joe R. Williams building on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The Idaho State Capitol reflected in the Joe R. Williams building on March 21, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho is receiving about $146 million in federal funds to help schools reopen and sustain operations

The U.S. Department of Education has given the Idaho State Board of Education an extension to file its plan for using $146 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds earmarked to help schools reopen and sustain safe operations.

The deadline to submit the plan for using the federal American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Relief funds was Monday.

But on Friday, the State Board of Education voted to postpone approval of the plan, spokesman Mike Keckler said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s State Department of Education provided a draft of the 59-page plan that included input from the public to the State Board of Education at 2:36 p.m. Thursday, Keckler said.

That gave board members one day to read and review the latest draft before they were originally supposed to vote on it Friday. State Board members had seen an earlier version before public comment was factored in.

“I appreciate the work that the team that the superintendent put together has done in pulling this plan together in a short time window,” State Board of Education President Kurt Liebich said in a written statement. “There was just a really quick turnaround, once we got the public comment, the Board had less than 24 hours to review it. We just felt like it was prudent to give ourselves time to think strategically about what is in the plan and how we can best use these resources for our students and schools.”

The State Board will take some time to review the latest draft and take it up at its next meeting on June 16.

The funds can be used for several purposes to help schools operate safely and to help students who fell behind during the coronavirus pandemic, which caused widespread disruptions in Idaho’s education system as schools moved back and forth between remote online learning and in-person instruction.

Overall, the Elementary and Secondary School Relief funds approved by Congress in the American Rescue Plan Act provide about $122 billion to the states to support schools reopening, sustaining operations and providing for the social, emotional and mental health needs of students resulting from the pandemic, according to a template of the plan provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

The $146 million in Elementary and Secondary School Relief funds are completely separate, and in addition to, the 2021-2022 public school budgets that total about $2.6 billion that the Legislature approved earlier this year.

Education funding is closely watched in Idaho because K-12 public schools are the state’s largest expense each year, accounting for about 50% of all state general fund spending.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.