Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin asked state officials to delay a Tuesday vote on spending federal funds to offset state education budget holdbacks, before she skipped the vote and attended a political fundraiser later that day.
Idaho’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) passed, by unanimous voice vote, Gov. Brad Little’s plan to use federal CARES Act stimulus money to offset $99 million in state K-12 budget holdbacks. CFAC also approved a $50 million grant program designed for families who are struggling with the financial burdens of a shift to online education.
Little said the federal money will help stabilize Idaho’s education system as it faces unprecedented challenges and disruptions due to the pandemic.
“We will be, perhaps, one of the only states that is going to increase funding to K-12,” Little said Tuesday.
The $99 million, plus the $50 million in grants for families, are the latest installments of the state’s $313 million effort to pump federal relief money into education this year.
Before Tuesday’s vote, McGeachin sent a memo to CFAC members expressing concerns about Little’s plan.
“Spending $150 million is no small matter and we have not had an opportunity to review fully the details of the proposal nor have I seen any proof that it is even consistent with federal guidelines for the use of CARES Act money,” McGeachin wrote in the memo, which Idaho Education News obtained. “I would like to see the committee delay the vote until more research and investigation can be done.”
Legislators, an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare employee, an Idaho mayor and some Little staffers were among those who received McGeachin’s memo.
McGeachin, a member of the committee, wrote, “I am not able to participate in the meeting today.”
She did not elaborate. But on her public Twitter account, McGeachin posted she would be attending a political fundraiser for President Trump that night.
“So how do you finish a whirlwind trip to see your president? Jump in your car and head to Stanley and meet Donald Trump Jr!” McGeachin tweeted, less than 3.5 hours before the meeting started.
The online invitation for the event indicates guests could attend the dinner with a contribution of $2,800 per person or $5,600 per couple.
Nobody answered the phone in McGeachin’s Statehouse office Tuesday afternoon. An Idaho Education News reporter left a message requesting McGeachin’s side of the story.
On Wednesday McGeachin issued a lengthy statement on social media Wednesday, and in a tweet, she said, “The fake news is at it again.”
McGeachin posted the photo Tuesday but said it was taken Monday.
She also denied missing the meeting had anything to do with the rally she attended, and said she was not traveling at the time of the meeting. However, McGeachin did not attend the meeting remotely, via telephone or web stream, as several other members did.
Idaho Education News asked why McGeachin did not attend the meeting and asked her staff to clarify when she traveled and when she arrived at the rally.
The Lieutenant Governor was unable to attend the CFAC meeting due to personal reasons. No further comment,” chief of staff Jordan Watters wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.
This is not the first time McGeachin has been at odds with Little. She was caught off guard by Little’s announcement of a statewide stay-home order this spring. Then she pushed back against it, saying all businesses are essential and should remain open.
For his part, Little admitted this summer that he and McGeachin had not spoken for about three weeks at one point.
Even though Little and McGeachin are both Republicans, the state elects its governor and lieutenant governor’s separately, not as part of a joint ticket like with a president and vice president.