Idaho schools could get COVID testing cash in ‘a matter of days’

Over a dozen Idaho schools and school districts are close to tapping into a $30 million pot of federal money for school coronavirus testing.

Thirteen schools and districts have applied to receive money, and 46 have signaled interest, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr told EdNews by email Wednesday.

“For those who (started the process) pretty quickly, early on, it could be a matter of days before … (they) get the money flowing to them,” Dr. Kathryn Turner, Idaho deputy state epidemiologist, said during an IDHW coronavirus briefing Tuesday.

Gov. Brad Little pledged the money in August, amid an ongoing coronavirus surge fueled by the contagious delta variant that has spread among Idaho’s school-age children in recent weeks. The money is aimed at replacing $40.3 million from the feds allocated for school coronavirus testing, which Idaho House conservatives rejected in April, denying a need for it.

Spending the money

Program details were scarce in the beginning. As more information emerged, schools have learned they can use dollars on more staff to handle contact tracing, personal protective equipment like masks and other uses. Schools are working one-on-one with IDHW to determine whether they’ll receive a subgrant to take a simple step like hiring another contact tracer or implementing “an all bells-and-whistles program,” Turner said.

“It’s not one size fits all. I think it’s going to look different in every location,” Turner said.

The Nampa School District, for example, has met with IDHW and is working out a contract to access the funds, district spokesperson Kathleen Tuck said by email Monday.

The district hasn’t made firm plans, but it could prioritize rapid tests for staff to keep them in the classroom; support for staff contact tracing and COVID data collection; and personal protective equipment for students and staff.

“If the only way we can keep athletes playing is testing (test to play), we could consider it. However, there are no plans for this,” Tuck said.

Tuck emphasized that tests for staff, students and athletes would be voluntary.

Getting the funding is voluntary, too, so the money’s reach is limited by districts’ interest. The Coeur d’Alene School District, for one, doesn’t have a coronavirus testing program and doesn’t expect to start one, EdNews reported last month. The district also hadn’t flagged interest to IDHW as of Friday.

The 46 schools and districts that have expressed interest make up a growing minority of Idaho’s K-12 schools and districts — which exceed 170, just counting public schools. Schools and districts have requested a combined $3.6 million IDHW spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr told EdNews by email Wednesday morning.

That doesn’t mean other schools don’t have testing programs, Turner pointed out. Five districts have declined money, they just want access to coronavirus testing kits. The state is working to buy more PCR tests on behalf of schools to meet those needs, Division of Public Health administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch said at the briefing.

Around one-fifth of the schools and districts expressing interest would use the money to enhance existing testing programs, according to Turner.

Three private schools have expressed interest. All Idaho schools are eligible, Forbing-Orr told EdNews by email last week; that includes private schools.

Interested schools

IDHW said schools and districts that had requested funding by Wednesday morning included:

  • Boise
  • Teton County
  • Vallivue
  • Nampa
  • Emmett
  • Anser Charter
  • Foothills School of Arts and Sciences
  • Riverstone International School
  • Twin Falls
  • Vision Charter School District #463
  • St. Ignatious Catholic School
  • Nezperce
  • Wilder

Among the state’s 10 biggest districts, Bonneville, Pocatello, Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho Falls and Oneida County hadn’t expressed interest by Wednesday. Twin Falls, West Ada, Boise, Nampa and Vallivue had.

Other schools and districts that had expressed interest by Wednesday were:

  • Boundary County
  • West Bonner County
  • Teton County
  • Sacred Heart Catholic School
  • Compass Public Charter
  • Treasure Valley Classical Academy
  • Project Impact STEM Academy
  • Caldwell
  • Meridian Technical Charter High School
  • Emmett
  • MOSAICS Public School
  • Buhl
  • Anser Charter
  • Foothills School of Arts and Sciences
  • North Valley Academy
  • Preston
  • Riverstone International School
  • Alzar School
  • Rose Hill Montessori
  • Vision Charter School District
  • Clark County District
  • Future Public School
  • St. Ignatious Catholic School
  • Lapwai District
  • Salmon River
  • West Side
  • Bruneau-Grand View
  • Highland
  • Nezperce
  • North Star Charter
  • Wilder
  • Fruitland
  • Meadows Valley
  • Middleton
  • Homedale
  • Basin
  • Kuna
  • Notus
  • Council
  • Idaho Arts Charter
  • Greenleaf Friends Academy
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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