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Idaho governor restores $99 million in education funding

photo of timberline high school classroom

A pre-COVID classroom at Timberline High School. File photo

Idaho Gov. Brad Little on September 11 restored $99 million in K-12 education funding he cut earlier this year amid budget shortfall concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor also announced that another $50 million will be made available to parents so they’re less likely to leave the workforce while their children learn at home. The money is coming from Idaho’s $1.25 billion share of the $2.2 trillion emergency relief package approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March.

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. The money can be used to purchase educational materials, devices and services.

Many students are learning at home as school districts around the state try to avoid spreading the virus, putting pressures on parents. Families can start applying for the program in October.

Marissa Morrison Hyer, the governor’s press secretary, said that the criteria for the Strong Families, Strong Students program is being developed through the Idaho State Board of Education. The current plan is to use need-based metrics  tied to adjusted gross income, with the first round of applications open to Idaho families with an adjusted gross income equal to $50,000 or less.

The governor has requested that the Idaho Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee help fill in the program details for both the $90 million and $50 million relief packages, to ensure both proposals fully align with U.S. Treasury guidance issued. CFAC will meet on Sept. 15 to work on the request.

Over the summer, Little worked with the Trump Administration and Idaho’s Congressional Delegation to allow for more flexibility in the allocation of relief dollars, including for public schools. The U.S. Treasury updated guidance the first week of September, giving states more authority to use federal coronavirus relief funds for COVID-related needs in public school budgets. Little seized the opportunity and acted within days to announce the two education-oriented relief packages at a press conference the morning of Sept. 11.

“When parents have to step in to provide instruction and equipment due to school-related closures, we see them pushed out of the work force — something that strains our economic rebound,” Little said.

Johns Hopkins University said Idaho has nearly 35,000 infections and just over 400 deaths through Sept 10.

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.

Several public school systems in Idaho have reported student cases of COVID-19 since the start of the school year, including Boise, Kuna, Idaho Falls Districts #91 and #93, Madison Co. #321, Oneida Co. #351, Teton Co. #401 and every district in Bingham County.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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