Little’s grants a step in the right direction, but more ed choice work is needed

Anna Miller Articles, Education Leave a Comment

Since COVID-19 led to the shutdown of public school systems in March, parents and students have been victims of massive leadership failure. The public school system has proved to be unable or unwilling to adapt to the needs of Idaho communities. The burden has fallen on families to ensure their children’s educations continue. Nearly six months into the pandemic and school systems and families are still struggling. 

On Friday, Gov. Brad Little announced a proposal for the Strong Families, Strong Students initiative, which would provide $1,500 per eligible student with a maximum of $3,500 per family. 

Idaho spends approximately $6,747 per pupil in K-12 education. This semester families will be able to direct some of that money to options that are the right fit for them. 

Eligible students for Strong Families, Strong Students grants include students who meet the state definition of school age, and both public school and private school students regardless of family income. Eligibility criteria also includes families who have been impacted by COVID-19 through a parent’s job loss or employment disruption, and full or partial school closure. The announcement does not specifically stipulate for or against inclusion of homeschool students. It does explain the State Board will be able to set further eligibility criteria. 

Families “may use the funds to purchase additional educational materials, services or devices.”  For example, parents could purchase tutoring for their child in a subject they are struggling to learn or pay for wifi.

There could be more applicants than available grants. Due to this, the Idaho State of Education will prioritize families with incomes less than or equal to $50,000 first, $75,000 second, and $100,000 third, before considering the rest of Idaho families. This suggests less than 10 percent of Idaho K-12 students will receive a grant. 

Another caveat is that these purchases must “facilitate distance learning as a result of school building closures.” This criterion could exclude homeschool families since they do not have a single designated “school building” aside from their own home. Yet, homeschool families have been affected by the same trials of job loss or employment disruption, and illness as public or private school families have experienced. 

Additionally, there are many families who became first time homeschoolers this year after becoming tired of the requirements of online learning, mask mandates or other social distancing protocols in schools. These students are especially in need of supplies to support their new learning environment. The Idaho State Board of Education should consider these things when establishing final eligibility requirements.

The grants Little announced Friday are a step toward supporting students and allowing parents to direct money towards learning options that are the right fit for their child. Education leaders should continue to work to free up existing education dollars to further support Idaho students as they strive to succeed in the instruction age of COVID-19.