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State looks to help families with learning loss, legislation passes Senate committee

COVID-19 impacts learning
Posted at 5:07 PM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 19:07:10-05

BOISE, Idaho — Parents could soon receive state funding to help address their child's learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the Senate Education Committee approved legislation that would appropriate $50 million of the state's American Rescue Plan Act money into the Empowering Parents Grant Program.

Proposed by Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, Senate Bill 1255 would create the Empowering Parents Grant Program which aims to address learning loss by providing parents up to $3,000 in state funding to purchase additional educational resources.

"I think there's some great value in including parents in this way and allowing them to have some funds to direct for their child's specific needs," Den Hartog said.

RELATED: Addressing learning loss and the transition to higher education

According to the bill, families would be eligible for $1,000 students or up to $3,000 per household. Both public and nonpublic K-12 students would qualify for grant funding.

On Jan. 17, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra said Idaho schools are still battling to recover from pandemic-related learning loss — and likely will continue to do so for years.

During her 2022-23 budget request to the state's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Ybarra reported that K-12 testing scores on nearly all subjects are still below pre-pandemic levels. She attributed the decline to parents and families struggle with remote learning.

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“We all recognized early in the pandemic that the interruptions to in-person learning were going to have an impact on all of our students but especially our youngest students who need that one-to-one in-person interaction with their teachers and their aids and their peers," Ybarra said. "Putting them on zoom, as a mother, and expecting them to learn was probably not realistic.”

The breakdown, reported in her budget presentation packet, shows:

  • Early reading scores — tested in K-3 students — are down from 54.7% in Fall 2019 to 51% in Fall 2021. The data is up slightly from Fall 2020, which reported only 49.6% were reading at grade level. The hardest-hit grade was kindergarten students, which dropped from 43.4% in 2020 to 40.8% in 2021.  
Idaho Department of Education

  • Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) scores decreased slightly in English language arts, but math scores remain considerably low. Students take the ISAT from third to eighth grades, and sometimes in ninth and eleventh grades. Based on Ybarra's Idaho Department of Education data, 32.1% of students have a below-basic understanding of math concepts.  
Idaho Department of Education

  • Idaho students' SAT scores, a national college entrance exam, were also below pre-pandemic levels. According to Ybarra's report, 44% of students who took the SAT in Idaho did not meet national math, reading, or writing bench marks.    
Idaho Department of Education

Ybarra proposed increasing K-12 funding by 8.1% from last year to a whopping $2.2 billion to address learning loss and other educational needs. K-12 education already receives most of the state's general fund dollars derived from sales, income, and corporate taxes.

RELATED: Ybarra's budget request for K-12 public schools presented Monday

Gov. Brad Little also requested increasing the public schools' general fund by 11% from last year.

If passed, SB 1255's funding would roll out in tiers:

  1. To families with an annual gross income of $60,000 or less  
  2. To families who earn up to $75,000 per year  
  3. To all other families on a first-come-first-serve basis until the money runs out  

The Idaho State Tax Commission data would verify income.

According to the legislation, eligible expenses could include technological devices, testing fees and other instructional materials. The bill would also create a parent advisory panel and digital platform that would define what families could spend grant money on and how to apply.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for debate.