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Empowering Parents grants could shrink to fund private school tuition

Idaho Governor Brad Little
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Gov. Brad Little announced applications are now open to serve on an advisory council overseeing a parental grants program.

Parents who want to help oversee Idaho’s Empowering Parents grants program can now apply to serve on its oversight council as Gov. Brad Little fights for funding.

Little previously used tens of millions of dollars in federal pandemic funds to bankroll the program, which gives $1,000 per child, up to $3,000 per family. They could then use that money to pay for things like tutoring services, internet costs or computers.

Lower income families are prioritized for these grants under the law.

The oversight council will be made up of seven parents whose children are eligible for the program. Preference would be given to those who have actually applied to enroll.

Recommendations by the group would go before the state board of education, which oversees it.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield says the advisory council will bring a good perspective to policymakers.

“We’ve heard from interest groups that are here in our state. We’ve heard from interest groups outside of the state. We’ve been missing a voice, a very powerful voice, and that is of our parents,” Critchfield said.

Permanently established last year, the program has gone through some hiccups. In December, the Idaho Capital Sun reported less than half of 28,000 applications had been approved.

Little acknowledged those missteps Tuesday, chalking it up to getting a new program off the ground.

He asked lawmakers to fund the Empowering Parents program with $30 million this coming year in his annual budget request.

Earlier on Tuesday, Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian) said she wants to introduce a bill that would direct nearly half of that money toward private school tuition.

“Or it would allow the hiring of a certified teacher,” said Den Hartog. “So, if parents wanted to pool their funds and do something like a micro school, it allows for that.”

Her proposal, which she said would be co-sponsored by Joint Finance and Appropriations co-chair Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls) would establish a pilot program, giving up to $6,000 per child and serving up to 2,000 students. It would sunset after five years if passed.

In all, Den Hartog said the pilot program would use $12 million of Little’s requested $30 million for next year.

When asked about the proposal, Little said there’s too much demand for Empowering Parents grants to divvy up that money.

“In essence, they’re taking food out of the mouths of a program that we know is going to work,” he said.

Lawmakers have yet to fund the Empowering Parents program for next year.

Applications to serve on its advisory council are due April 30.

Governor Little will appoint three members and the House Speaker and Senate Pro Tem will each appoint two members. These positions will be announced May 15.

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!

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