Idaho’s K-12 federal relief plan turned away, needs revisions

Idaho’s plan to spend hundreds of millions in federal K-12 relief money failed to gain U.S. Department of Education approval on first review, and it has gone back to the state for revision.

The state was asked on July 13 to revise its plan to spend the third round of stimulus dollars, to show how it will meet federal requirements.

The state will have to explain how it plans to engage two disadvantaged groups left out of the plan-writing process: children in foster care and children who are incarcerated, said Tracie Bent, chief planning and policy officer for the State Board of Education. The next iteration of the plan must also expand on how the state will cope with learning loss from the pandemic, and how money will be spent on professional development.

“Because we’re so early in the process, we had left our answers really broad to give the board … flexibility on the use of those funds. And (the U.S. Department of Education) just wanted more specificity,” Bent said.

The federal government has approved plans in 11 states and Washington, D.C. But Idaho’s plan — apparently unreviewed when the first batch of states got the go-ahead on July 7 — must be edited, re-approved and resubmitted.

Bent attributed the lack of engagement with certain groups and any vagueness in Idaho’s plan to the “truncated, short time period” the state had to turn in its original plan. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that carved out the stimulus money was signed into law March 11, and direction to states came in the following months. Idaho submitted its plan 10 days after the June 7 deadline, after it was granted an extension.

Idaho’s plan was turned away for some of the same reasons as other states. Other plans had been rejected because they failed to “(engage) a diverse range of stakeholders” or “deploy evidence-based interventions to support the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic,” said Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary in the Education Department, earlier this month.

Idaho’s schools can’t spend the final third of the ARPA money until the state plan is approved. Some $147 million of the $440 million going to elementary and secondary schools is at stake.

But districts just got access to two thirds of that pot July 1, and most are still working through a different pot of federal relief dollars allocated before ARPA.

“At this point we’re not worried about it,” Bent said of the withheld money. “There are still the previous funds the school districts are working through. They’re on summer break. … If we were in November, and still didn’t have an approved plan — just to pick a date out of the air — then I might start to start to worry.”

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The State Department of Education plans to submit a new draft of the plan to the U.S. Department of Education on Friday, spokesperson Kristin Rodine told EdNews by email Thursday afternoon. The federal government could elect to grant conditional approval of the plan, which will be submitted to the State Board for approval in August.

Additions are likely to include showing that the Idaho Standards Achievement Test will be used to measure student achievement, and help determine which students, schools and groups need additional help amid the pandemic, Bent said.

In many parts of its first draft, Idaho deferred to school districts and charter schools to determine how they will help disadvantaged groups, and which evidence-based strategies they will use to intervene when students are falling behind. And though the federal government took issue with some parts of the plan that “were more vague,” it “did not push back” on deferring to local educators, Bent said.

While 90% of relief money will go straight to districts and charters, the State Board has control over the remaining 10%. The State Board will send a quarter of its money to schools not receiving federal relief based on Title I, a formula used to target high-poverty schools.

School districts and charters in Idaho must submit their own spending plans to the state and publish them on their websites by Oct. 1.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said a revised ESSER plan would be submitted to the State Board of Education on Thursday. The plan is expected to be resubmitted to the federal government on Friday. 

About Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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