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House lawmakers barely approve Idaho Launch scholarships

The Idaho State Flag hanging inside the Statehouse Rotunda.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

House lawmakers narrowly passed Gov. Brad Little’s proposed scholarship push Monday that would offset the costs of training and certificate programs for in-demand jobs.

Debate lasted roughly two hours, with the Idaho Launch program barely squeezing through by one vote.

High school grads would get $8,500 to use toward training, certificate programs, or degrees if they lead to needed jobs in the state.

Idaho’s Workforce Development Council would determine which careers are most in-demand each year, and prioritize grants used to gain those skills. Recipients would also have to take an aptitude test and attend career counseling.

The issue divided Republicans.

Opponents labeled the bill as “socialism” and not the proper role of government.

Rep. Julianne Young (R-Blackfoot) also said the program shouldn’t solely target high school grads.

“Think about all of the people out there who could be upskilled, who could be certified, or could be assisted in completing a degree and they are not part of this,” Young said.

“It, without question, grows government,” said Rep. David Cannon (R-Blackfoot).

If funded as envisioned, Idaho Launch would cost $102 million in its first year. The bulk of it, $80 million, would come from funds set aside by state lawmakers during last year’s special legislative session. The remaining money would come from eliminating the Opportunity Scholarship and Postsecondary Credit Scholarship.

Rep. Britt Raybould (R-Rexburg) told her colleagues not to be concerned about hypothetical runaway costs.

“Please do not go into this thinking that we are signing a blank check. We are not. Every single year, we will come back, we will have the debate, we will have the discussion, we will go over the data and we will determine what is in the best interest of Idaho,” Raybould said.

Cannon, along with several legislators, said government shouldn’t be responsible for prioritizing certain career fields over others.

“Ironically, it would use their taxpayer money to fund competition for them in their chosen field and I don’t like that approach,” he said.

But supporters say it’ll expand Idaho’s economy by filling in-demand jobs, ideally leading to people staying in-state.

“We’re not just creating workers here,” said Rep. Matthew Bundy (R-Mountain Home). “We are creating viable citizens of Idaho.”

The proposal now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!