Earlier this month, Gov. Brad Little told Idahoans that it was his goal to send K-12 students back into classrooms this fall, despite the present rise in the spread of coronavirus across the state. On July 24, he announced that his Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee had released a $40 million package to increase testing statewide, and an additional $10 million to keep schools stocked with materials like sanitizers, gloves and plexiglass to reduce the spread in schools.
"Our number one focus is to get our kids back in school safely for in-person instruction, and the additional funds approved today help us get there," he wrote in a press release. "It's imperative that students return to their classrooms and interact directly with their teachers and classmates."
The package includes $21 million for school staff testing; $10 million for essential public health supplies like hand sanitizer, masks and gloves; $13 million for testing in long-term facilities; $3 million to improve test turnaround time; and $3 million for increasing testing in rural areas.
More resources include $33.8 million for blended learning, $3.2 million for the Digital Learning Academy, $4 million for PPE in schools, $1 million for remote student mental health support and $6 million for other support like K-3 reading remediation and remote STEM education.
Little's office touted it all as part of an education boost totaling $122.2 million, with money coming from the CARES Act and direct support. While the increase in funding is welcome, said Idaho Education Association Board President Layne McInelly, it does little to address concerns he's hearing from educators themselves.
"There is more money with this relief package, but it's still not addressing some of the main concerns that we have, especially around personnel," he said.
Notably absent from the governor's announcement, he said, is mention of support staff like nurses, counselors, school psychologists, bus drivers, administrators and more, who could come into contact with the disease during the course of their duties at school and are being "asked to go into a dangerous situation."
In order for those people to feel more comfortable, he said the number of reported cases would have to decrease and the public at large would have to follow basic public health measures like wearing face masks, and that would be when educators would begin feeling comfortable returning to their classrooms.
"Educators are the first people to say they want to be in the classroom, but they want to go back to the classroom when it's safe, when it's safe for them, their families and the students. That's the message that's getting overlooked," he said. "Yeah, we're pushing back from in-person learning at this point, but educators can't wait for the day when they can work with their students face to face, but we have to wait until it's safe."