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Funding for COVID-19 screening and testing now available to Idaho schools

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The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare created a new program, called the K-12 School SARS-CoV-2 Screening and Testing Program, with $30 million of one-time funds from the federal CARES Act. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

Three school districts have expressed interest so far, health and welfare department says

About three weeks after Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced $30 million in COVID-19 relief funding would be directed to school districts for testing, the program is now set up and open for districts that want to participate.

The information was announced Wednesday in the weekly update email sent by the office of Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare created the program, which is titled the K-12 School SARS-CoV-2 Screening and Testing Program. School districts are directed to complete a form with basic contact information to notify the agency that the school or district is interested in designing and implementing a screening and testing program for COVID. The form is non-binding and simply initiates the planning process for putting a program in place, according to the email.

Niki Forbing-Orr, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told the Idaho Capital Sun in an email that three school districts have indicated interest in the funding so far, and the department is working with them to design a testing program. None have received funding yet.

The $30 million is part of $67.8 million approved by the Idaho Legislature in Senate Bill 1173, a $196 million appropriation bill for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. It included funds for the department’s employees, new programs that were approved and the $67.8 million in general one-time funds from the federal CARES Act passed in 2020.

The Idaho Legislature had the opportunity to approve $40 million in funds specifically for COVID testing in schools from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and while it passed the Senate by a 26-3 vote, it failed in the House in a 28-41 vote. Legislators cited concerns over data collection and called testing in schools a “very low priority.”

Greg Bailey, superintendent of Moscow School District, told the Sun via email the district did not request funding but instead asked for a supply of 1,000 VAULT Medical cheek swab tests and received them Wednesday — the day school started in Moscow for the fall semester.

“The regional Public Health Department encouraged us to provide it for parents who have concerns that they or their children have COVID,” Bailey wrote. “It is also for use by our staff and their families.”

The VAULT tests are also in use in Coeur d’Alene School District.

Several local schools have already temporarily returned to remote learning amid breakouts of COVID infections, including Compass Public Charter School in Meridian. According to reporting from Idaho Education News, 163 school districts and charter schools across Idaho are not requiring masks. Boise School District is requiring masks for students, while West Ada School District is allowing parents to opt out of the requirement with the submission of a permission slip.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.