State Board devotes $26 million to student data collection, after-school programs

The State Board of Education Thursday earmarked some $26 million in federal coronavirus relief money to improving a state data collection system, funding supplementary learning opportunities, among other items.

The money comes from the latest and largest round of elementary and secondary school emergency relief funding sent to Idaho through congressional coronavirus relief packages. While school districts and charter schools control 90% of the money, it’s up to the State Board to steer the remaining 10%. That’s what the board addressed in Thursday’s unanimous vote.

The bulk of the money, up to an estimated $20 million, will go toward upgrading the state’s system for collecting student enrollment, attendance and achievement data so Idaho can meet federal reporting requirements. Gov. Brad Little has already approved money for a third-party consultant to evaluate Idaho’s system, called ISEE, and determine what upgrades are needed.

A total of $4.4 million was dedicated to after-school and summer learning programs that run through a partnership with the Idaho STEM Action Center, the Idaho Commission for Libraries and the Idaho Out-of-School Network.

Another $1.6 million will go to professional development programs. While an EdNews analysis of 151 district and charter plans found that some local leaders are using their federal relief money for professional development, that’s far from universal.

The state’s added investment is about “leveling the playing field” and “making sure that our small rural districts have access to the same materials the same opportunities as our large districts do,” State Board member Linda Clark said. “Specifically, we have had a lot of input about the difficulty that small rural districts have in providing mentors and professional development.”

And $100,000 will be used to develop a handbook to help educators better serve students who have dyslexia. Developing such a handbook is among state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s stated priorities for the upcoming legislative session, along with creating teacher-focused training and providing early screenings for dyslexia.

“We’re not that far behind (other states), but we don’t want to get drastically behind and not help kids,” Ybarra told the board before voting for the proposal.

Prior to this week, the board had already determined it would give a quarter of the ESSER III money it controls to school districts and charters that didn’t receive federal money because they had a low share of low-income students. It had also pledged money to an accelerated math learning program and to a committee meant to hold schools accountable for student achievement. Those previous allocations account for around $15 million of state-controlled ESSER III money.

The state is still yet to make plans for $3 million of the $44 million or so it controls. The board vote generally earmarked the remaining $41 million; the board will still have to vote on the specifics later, as costs become clearer.

When those votes happen, the board will have to ensure that it meets federal requirements, allocating minimum percentages of its money — called “set-aside” funding — toward predetermined purposes, as shown below.

Other action from Thursday

The board also approved a five-year contract for new University of Idaho head football coach Jason Eck. His annual base salary will be $175,000, but could top $300,000 with incentives and benefits built in.

Blake Jones

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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