Job training and public education will get help from Idaho’s pandemic relief funds.
Idaho will use $35 million from its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act moneys to support job training and distance learning for publicly funded education. Gov. Brad Little approved funding for three education and training programs recommended by the Idaho Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee at its June 26 meeting. The programs were proposed by the State Board of Education and the Idaho Workforce Development Council.
Shawn Keough from the State Board of Education requested funding for two projects with a combined price tag of $34 million. The first project was the creation of “a statewide digital campus that will provide high quality, online postsecondary opportunities for Idahoans,” at a cost of $4 million.
Keough pointed out that the sudden transition of closing the state’s post-secondary campuses because of the COVID-19 pandemic and switching to entirely online learning revealed several gaps in Idaho’s ability to offer collegiate education over the internet. The documentation submitted to support the proposal stated: “At the postsecondary level, students found themselves adapting to a fully online or distance learning platform within a matter of days. While the institutions already deliver a large number of courses and programs online, none were prepared to offer all spring catalog courses fully online mid-semester.”
The second program supported primary and secondary education. Closing the state’s public and charter schools during the pandemic revealed a second problem: “In the K-12 system, many rural and economically disadvantaged students lacked the devices that would connect them to online curriculum … Funding to provide students with technology to connect to their new online classroom was not part of the previous year’s appropriation.”
The State Board of Education requested $30 million to acquire the equipment and technology so that all the K-12 students in the state’s school districts can access online classes and educational materials. Keough stated that this would fill the technology gap revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and help students keep up with their studies, especially in rural areas.
Wendi Secrist from the WDC presented the third proposal to create a new job training program for the post-COVID-19 workplace and requested $1 million to fund it. Also on hand during the presentation was Trent Clark, chair of the WDC, who told CFAC members that the post-COVID-19 work environment would require new skills and that low-skill workers would have a difficult time regaining employment without training opportunities. The training would be available at no cost to those who pursued it.
To create the post-COVID-19 training program, WDC proposed to adapt two initiatives it already had in the pipeline for worker training. The first would work with Idaho employers to identify desirable job skills available through different types of short-term training. By making this targeted training available, those who took advantage of the program would improve their value to potential employers.
The program would be aimed at individuals who wanted to pursue additional education and training but were prevented from doing so, either because the training did not qualify for federal financial aid or the individual was not eligible for support under traditional workforce programs.
Secrist stated that WDC would partner with Idaho institutions to offer this training. Individuals who enrolled for training would receive a voucher to cover its cost. The program would use the Idaho Department of Labor voucher system already in place where the training institutions would receive the IDL vouchers directly so that no money would be handled by those being trained.
The second initiative would take advantage of a WDC marketing campaign that was already in the works called Idaho LAUNCH. The campaign was designed to encourage Idahoans to take advantage of existing training opportunities and could be adapted to support the post-COVID-19 training program with very little effort. The website, Idaholaunch.com, has already been built. WDC was testing the initiative’s messaging before kicking off a social media campaign when the COVID-19 virus arrived.
In responding to questions from CFAC members, Secrist also noted that the contractual elements of the proposed worker training program would be competitively bid.
The WDC training proposal and the two State Board of Education proposals received unanimous support from CFAC and were approved by Little for the amounts requested.r