Idaho coronavirus update, 4.10.20: Federal stimulus will provide $56 million for Idaho higher education


The state’s colleges and universities should receive close to $56 million from a federal coronavirus stimulus law.

And the schools could start getting the money into students’ hands quickly.

The money comes from an omnibus, $2 trillion stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The CARES Act creates a $14 billion fund for higher education.

Under the law’s funding formula — which is heavily weighted toward schools with high numbers of students eligible for federal Pell Grants — Idaho’s biggest chunk of money will go to a private college, Brigham Young University-Idaho. Among Idaho’s eight public institutions, the biggest share will go to Boise State University, the state’s largest four-year institution.

All colleges and universities will have to operate on one basic rule: At least half of their money will have to go to student aid, to cover losses directly related to the coronavirus outbreak. Idaho’s public colleges and universities have closed their doors for spring semester, shifting coursework online and forcing most students to return home.

The colleges and universities can set up their own framework for distributing this aid — from giving money to all students to identifying students with greatest need.

“I would like to encourage the leadership of each institution to prioritize your students with the greatest need, but at the same time consider establishing a maximum funding threshold for each student to ensure that these funds are distributed as widely as possible,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a letter to college and university presidents Thursday.

If colleges and universities fill out the necessary paperwork, they could get access to the student aid money as early as next week, State Board of Education executive director Matt Freeman said Friday.

“It’s a very, very quick truncated process,” he said.

The CARES Act also includes two other funds for education. Idaho should receive roughly $48 million for K-12. Gov. Brad Little should receive roughly $15 million, which he can spend on K-12 or higher education.

Related reading: In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Idaho’s colleges and universities face existential challenges and immediate cashflow issues.

State Board delays action on K-12 re-opening criteria

The State Board of Education will discuss its response to the coronavirus pandemic during meetings Monday and Thursday.

Alongside posting notice of a special meeting Monday, the State Board announced it will consider the criteria for re-opening local schools during Thursday’s regular meeting.

Originally, the State Board said it would take the re-opening criteria up Monday. But delaying the action until Thursday allows board members to first hear what Gov. Brad Little does with the statewide stay-home order, which is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, and consider information they receive later in the week.

Little has suggested that some form of restrictions will continue past Wednesday.

Before they get to Thursday, the State Board will discuss and possibly take action on a handful of topics Monday:

  • The CARES Act stimulus funding.
  • The impact on higher education.
  • Flexibility waivers.
  • Driver’s education.
  • And the use of facilities for purposes other than education.

The re-opening criteria and stimulus funding allocations are two of the latest decisions the State Board and policymakers must consider as they develop Idaho’s coronavirus response.

Earlier this week, the State Board extended its statewide closure of physical buildings through the end of the academic year, but said local leaders could attempt to re-open if they meet the new criteria and get approval from their local public health officials.

Even with the extended closure, remote learning is taking place and Idaho’s largest districts are gearing up for online instruction.

Meanwhile, students will not be held back or asked to repeat the school year again next year.

Idaho Education News will have full coverage of the State Board meetings on Monday and Thursday.



Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin

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