Weiser School District to receive funds from coronavirus relief bill

Steve Lyon

Weiser School District officials were recently notified that the district is eligible for an estimated $228,402 in federal funds to help mitigate financial impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.
 Idaho will receive nearly $48 million in federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for the K-12 educational system. School districts and charter schools will receive funding based on the amount of Title I funds they receive, which is money allocated to help schools with high populations of low-income students.
 The allocations from the state will range from $14,000 for small school districts to as much as $3 million for large school districts. The average amount districts will receive is about $289,000, according to information from the Idaho State Board of Education.
 Weiser School District Superintendent Wade Wilson said he is working on the school district budget right now and could not say exactly how the funds will be used. He said he has heard there will be support for “maximum flexibility” for how the money can be spent by school districts.
 Some school districts are wondering if they will need to spend their share of the CARES Act funding to balance their budgets. The economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent reduction in tax revenue is likely to impact state support for public education in the next fiscal year.
 On Friday, Gov. Brad Little hinted at future austerity in the fiscal year 2021 budget in a memo to school district superintendents that outlined in detail a plan to trim K-12 school funding by $99 million in the face of the “new economic reality caused by the pandemic.”
 In part, the governor’s proposed education cuts include freezing the salary career ladder for teachers to save $26.6 million. Other cuts include reducing classroom technology funding by $10 million and trimming the professional development training line items by $10 million. Another $5.1 million will be saved by suspending the 2 percent base salary raises for administrators and classified staff. Reducing funding for IT staffing would save $5.1 million.
 The governor in March directed all state agencies to prepare their FY 2021 budgets with a 5 percent reduction in spending. The 5 percent cuts would apply to the FY 2021 budget, which begins on July 1 and affect K-12 and all state agencies.
 Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra recommended a portion of the CARES Act funds be used to invest in a statewide Learning Management System to improve distance learning capabilities throughout the state’s public education system.
 Ybarra told SBOE members last month that she has heard from parents during the closure of public schools that they are concerned that children who receive packets for distance learning are not getting the same opportunities as peers with established online learning programs.
 Ybarra said the state could buy licensing for a Learning Management System for $1.2 million to improve distance learning across the state. Getting something in place is important in the event there could be another round of the coronavirus pandemic and school closures in the fall.
 “The emphasis will be across the K-12 infrastructure system and focused on districts that do not already have a robust LMS system,” Ybarra said. “We need to make sure there’s uniformity and thoroughness. That’s particularly important during this school closure.”
 In total, the CARES Act passed by federal lawmakers in late March earmarks $30.7 billion under  an Education Stabilization Fund for states to spend on education, including $13.2 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund and $14 billion for Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
 Another $3 billion goes to the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund, which governors can use for “significantly impacted” school districts or higher education institutions.

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