BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho education officials said Monday the state’s primary challenge in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is helping students make up lost ground.
The State Department of Education identified that as a top priority in its draft plan for spending $440 million Idaho is receiving in federal rescue money for more than 300,000 students in grades K-12.
The U.S. Department of Education requires the plan to receive money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund that's part of the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.
“The foremost challenge for students and schools across Idaho is continuing to identify and employ effective strategies for assisting students who lost instructional time,” the draft plan said.
State officials face a tight timeline. They're taking comments on the plan through June 1, then will send it to the Idaho State Board of Education for approval. The plan must be submitted to the U.S. Education Department by June 7.
Mike Keckler, a spokesman for the board, noted its eight members had a role in coming up with the draft plan. One of them, Linda Clark, coined the term “unfinished learning” in describing what the pandemic has caused among Idaho students.
“Addressing ‘unfinished learning’ is a top priority of the board,” Keckler said.
State officials said last fall’s early reading assessment showed a 5% drop from the previous year in K-3 students reading at grade level. Students from low-incoming families fell further behind than their peers.
“Similar patterns were seen among many, but not all, traditionally underserved groups, highlighting the need for targeted support,” the draft plan said.
Officials said they are waiting on results from this spring's early reading assessment to see whether the gap narrowed. Other metrics, officials said, will also be used to identify priorities.
Some school districts halted in-person instruction as coronavirus infections and deaths rose in the state in spring 2020, and some used a hybrid model. The 2020-2021 school year began with similar precautions, but districts have been aiming to return to normal now that there's a vaccine against COVID-19.
State officials in the draft plan also said there will be an effort to “develop strategies to analyze intervention priorities outside of the academic context, such as student social/emotional health and economic need, which may have changed based on the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions.”
State officials said K-12 enrollment dropped by several thousand students from the previous school year, and some districts saw declines of more than 5%.
The plan includes a breakdown of how the money will be spread among some 800 entities that include school districts, charter schools and the Idaho Bureau of Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind.
Overall, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund is providing about $122 billion to states to support the safe reopening of schools while meeting students' academic, social and emotional needs.
In Idaho, the coronavirus has sickened more than 190,000 residents and has killed more than 2,000. But those numbers have slowed as more people have been vaccinated. About 580,000 of Idaho's 1.8 million residents are fully vaccinated.