The IEA this week added its cautious voice of support to legislation that would provide grants to help Idaho families pay for education expenses.
The bill, Senate Bill 1255, was introduced by Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian) and was part of the slate of education proposals announced by Gov. Brad Little during his State of the State address at the top of the 2022 legislative session. It was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and was approved by the full Senate in a 34-1 vote on Thursday.
The bill creates the Empowering Parents Grant program and builds on a similar and very popular program initiated by Gov. Little last year. It envisions using $50 million in one-time federal funds to provide grants — up to $1,000 per child or $3,000 per household — to help cover costs for computers, textbooks, physical therapy, or other needs. The grant would be awarded based on need, with money going first to families with an income of under $60,000.
The Idaho Education Association supports the spoken intent of this bill – to provide funding for families to help with supplemental education expenses. Providing wrap-around services to Idaho’s most vulnerable students through family grants would go a long way to ensure students’ educational, emotional, and individual needs are met and they will be more successful.
However, when this legislation first came to light, we expressed significant concerns that the language creates a back door for public money to go to private or parochial schools – we worried it was a voucher bill.
Since then, we’ve worked on the language with the bill’s sponsors. While the bill still doesn’t expressly forbid using grants for private school scholarships, we have gotten assurances from the Office of the Governor, the Idaho State Board of Education, and lawmakers that the tools this bill creates will not be used for offering vouchers. In addition, other education stakeholders like the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho School Boards Association support the bill because of the benefits it offers Idaho families.
The IEA “cautiously supports” this legislation based upon those assurances.