SDE releases federal spending plan for public comment

A new pot of federal stimulus money, through the American Rescue Plan, gives Idaho more than $440 million to help students recover from the impact of the pandemic, with a specific focus on students who were most severely impacted by COVID-19. The funding requires states, and districts, to identify the needs of traditionally underserved student groups, and to address students’ mental health as well as their academic success.

The Idaho State Department of Education released a first draft of its ARP ESSER spending plans on Monday for public comment. Local districts have to publish their own spending plans later this year, and both state and local agencies have to consult with a diverse group of stakeholders about the best way to spend their federal funds.

(You can watch the SDE’s Federal Program director Karen Seay describe the ARP requirements here.)

The SDE’s plan is short on details about the specific impact COVID-19 had on Idaho’s historically underserved student groups, or how schools will help them catch up. That’s partly because the state will leave most decisions up to local districts and charter schools. It’s also because the academic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in Idaho is still a murky picture. State leaders are waiting on the results of spring assessments to gauge how severely pandemic disruptions impacted academic outcomes, and influenced existing achievement gaps between underserved student groups and their peers.

But, preliminary data included in Monday’s report pointed to some troubling findings:

  • Fall reading tests showed that low-income students fell further behind in reading at grade-level than their peers from 2019 to 2020.
  • Mid-year data showed 12 percent of Hispanic students were considered chronically absent, nearly twice as high as the percentage of white students.
  • Spring engagement surveys showed a “substantially higher” percentage of students with disabilities were considered “disengaged” in certain areas than their peers.

State leaders plan to train local districts on how to examine their data to gauge the academic and social emotional impact of the pandemic, and let districts choose which interventions they want to use to help students recover.

The State Board of Education’s Accountability Oversight Committee will review both state and local data to determine how agencies are living up to their plans to spend these federal dollars. Districts will be required to test throughout the school year and give the Accountability Oversight Committee midyear data on student outcomes.

The public can comment on Idaho’s draft plan before June 1. The State Board of Education will convene a special meeting to approve the plan sometime after that, spokesman Mike Keckler said. Idaho’s final draft is due to the U.S. Department of Education by June 7.

As it has in the past, the state plans to give reserve funds to districts and charters that have a low number of Title I students, and will receive fewer of the federal dollars that are weighted toward high-needs students.

About Sami Edge

Reporter Sami Edge, a University of Oregon graduate, joined Idaho Education News in 2019. She is a 2019 Education Writers Association fellow reporting on Latino student outcomes in Idaho. She also is a 2019 American Press Institute fellow. She can be reached at [email protected].

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