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Addressing the "digital divide" in Idaho schools

Posted at 8:45 AM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 10:45:50-04

IDAHO — In the face of big cuts to Idaho education, the state board is carving out $34 million of federal relief funding to support digital learning. The Board approved a list of recommendations Wednesday intended to help school districts prepared for "blended learning" instruction.

The new learning style is intended for the upcoming school year and the methodology for administering the grant programs was approved by the Board in June. Blended learning would combine in-person learning and remote options from home, should local public health concerns warrant that.

The grant programs will make available $3.8 million in federal elementary and secondary school education relief funds and $30 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to help bridge the digital divide between students who have online access and those who do not.

The money can be used by school districts and charter schools to buy learning management systems, computers for students and teachers, adaptive learning technology, improve connectivity and provide teachers training to deliver remote instruction. The funding will be administered by the State Department of Education.

“There’s not enough money to completely solve the problem but we are going to do the best we can,” said Board Member Kurt Liebich who co-chaired a committee that developed recommendations on coordinating efforts on the use of monies from the two funds. “Districts are going to have to prioritize what they need and it will have to be something we work towards, that we can’t completely solve the digital divide by the end of August when school starts.”

Liebich estimated between 28,000 and 45,000 Idaho students do not have access to a device or to the internet.

The Board also approved a letter supporting Governor Little's plans for implementing a five percent holdback in general funds for school districts and charter schools during State Fiscal Year 2021, which started on July 1. The Governor ordered the holdback in response to the drop in state revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The holdback reduces the state public school budget by nearly $99 million.