State Department of Education officials assured local school leaders Thursday they will continue to receive funding despite extended closures and questions over counting attendance.
What was less clear, however, was how the 1 percent budget holdback Gov. Brad Little announced last week will affect schools. Education officials and Little’s staff continue to develop the plan and are expected to issue more details next week.
Tim Hill, the department’s associate deputy superintendent for public school finance, led a one-hour webinar Thursday that focused on new financial guidance for districts and charters in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The primary topics were attendance, calendars and instruction hours and data uploads.
Idaho uses a complicated, attendance-based funding formula to fund schools. Several school leaders wondered how they are supposed to count attendance when schools are closed and they have moved temporarily to online or distance learning.
Short answer? Do your best and request separate waivers from the state if closures affect attendance or instructional hours. The state will then ensure the school is paid like normal.
“We will do our best to try to make this an issue where your average daily attendance is as it would have been had the cause of this impact of attendance not been the case,” Hill said.
So how do you count attendance when students are at home?
If they are doing work, even from home, count them in attendance.
Again, Hill told school officials to do their best. Educators can check with parents, request student feedback and monitor work that is assigned and completed. If educators send materials home or assign a full slate of online learning, it’s fair for them to count the students as attending.
“We’re not going to challenge this,” Hill said. “In other words, if you made your best effort to provide education and you believe your students are engaged in the education process, then by all means count them as being in attendance.
“We’re going to have to be flexible and take what I am hoping is a common-sense approach to this.”
Standardized waiver forms are expected to be available from the SDE next week. But Hill urged administrators to wait to see what happens at Monday’s State Board of Education meeting. The board could extend its statewide school closure beyond April 20 or act on statewide waivers.
In recent weeks, online webinars have become a major part of the SDE’s strategy to communicate with administrators and educators. With all school buildings closed and social distancing and stay-home orders in place, state education officials use the webinars to convey timely information in a virtual setting.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra conducted webinars twice a week over the previous two weeks and will continue hosting webinars once a week, on Wednesday afternoons, going forward.
Ybarra’s next scheduled webinar is April 7. Ybarra will also move her traditional post-legislative tour event online in the coming weeks.
“There’s more questions than answers right now, whether we are talking about funding or the general economy or how bad this is going to get before it gets better, so I appreciate everybody’s patience and understanding as we attack this a day at a time,” Hill said at the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting.
Confirmed cases update
At its 5 p.m. update Thursday, the state’s coronavirus website and Idaho’s public health districts were cumulatively reporting 897 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Idaho. That’s an increase of 228 cases from Wednesday’s revised total of 669 cases, an increase of 33 percent.
The state has now confirmed cases in 31 of Idaho’s 44 counties. Counties with the most cases are Blaine (351), Ada (307), Canyon (79), Kootenai (37) and Twin Falls (32).