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Critchfield: 'We're hopeful'

by DEVIN WEEKS
Hagadone News Network | March 31, 2024 1:07 AM

COEUR d'ALENE — Reverting to average daily attendance-based funding from the enrollment-based funding formula used during COVID-19 years has left many Idaho school districts feeling a financial pinch.

“Money was left on the table and we knew that last year,” Idaho State Superintendent of Public Education Debbie Critchfield said Friday during a visit to The Press office while in town for a Coeur d'Alene Rotary meeting.

The public education funding formula changed in 2023, when $330 million was allocated for public education in Idaho.

“That difference, it was a cliff,” Critchfield said. “There was no transition time for districts to be able to make adjustments within a couple of months."

One of the things she advocated for this legislative session was a fulfillment of that commitment that the monies would be available.

“We estimated that there was about $145 million of a gap, again, of dollars that were left on the table by returning to attendance," she said. "Now that the districts have an ability to access that money, every district across the state, they were very happy to see that come back around.”

She said the multi-layered public schools budget now has a bill number and will soon be making its way to the House floor.

"We’re hopeful," Critchfield said. "We feel good about what the recommendations from the Finance Committee were.”

She said the finalized budget should be ready in about a month.

"Then the money can go right out to the districts," she said. "That will be a big help for Coeur d'Alene and frankly for everyone."

Student behavioral health is another issue at the tops of the minds of Critchfield and her team, who are working to distinguish the appropriate role for schools and teachers in the event of a behavioral health incident. She said she doesn't believe school is an extension of the parent.

Children come to school with emotional issues, trauma and other factors that impact their behaviors, which can be challenging and limiting for learning in classrooms, Critchfield said.

"What we hear repeatedly from teachers is they don't want to become the counselor, they don't want to become the therapist, but they need some tools in the classroom as to how to de-escalate students who are in crisis and some of those things," she said.

Critchfield recently formed a work group to find ways to effectively address behavioral health challenges in education. She said one concern she hears from teachers is how to manage situations where a student has a crisis that exceeds a typical student outburst, in some cases requiring other students to be removed to allow the distressed student to calm down.

"We don't want learning for other students to stop while another student is cycling through a moment," she said, adding that she and her team will be working with teachers about escorting students out or de-escalating situations.

"There has to be a balance," she said.

Many times, she said, parents also say they don't know exactly how to defuse and soothe their own child.

"We're not trained counselors and therapists in that sense," she said.

She said many of Idaho's school districts have administered some kind of behavioral health survey, but a commitment she made last year was to craft a customizable Idaho-focused survey, which will be piloted this spring. Once the surveys are completed, education leaders will have more exact data with which to work and formulate solutions.

"I'm really excited about it," she said.