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Senate seeks to tweak Idaho Launch grants program

A man standing in front of a small microphone wearing a light blue shirt, dark blue tie and a grey jacket. His hands are up near his chest.
Otto Kitsinger
In this Jan. 3, 2019 file photo, Idaho Gov.-elect Brad Little answers a reporter's question at the State Capitol building in Boise, Idaho.

Gov. Brad Little’s signature education push to help high school graduates pay for in-demand jobs training has hit a speed bump.

A Senate committee Tuesday afternoon voted to send the Idaho Launch bill to the floor for amendments after several members said they couldn’t support it in its current form.

The proposal would give high school graduates $8,500 to pay for in-demand jobs training, costing about $100 million in its first year.

Members of the workforce development council, who are appointed by the governor, would determine each year which career fields qualify as “in-demand.”

That’s a sticking point for Sen. Brian Lenney (R-Nampa)

“We’re burdening Idaho taxpayers with the responsibility and the cost of training a workforce that’s handpicked by the governor’s special council,” Lenney said.

David Leavitt, a legislative intern for the Senate Republican caucus, told the committee about his three combat tours with the military that deployed him to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I want you all to know the sacrifices I have made in blood, sweat and tears, which has allowed me to earn the educational benefits that I have today,” Leavitt said.

“In today’s world, we have become too dependent on government to provide us with everything we want as an entitlement without having to earn it.”

Several people who testified against the bill called it “creepily communistic,” socialism or characterized it as antithetical to the American Dream.

Sen. Linda Wright Hartgen (R-Twin Falls) rejected that notion.

“I don’t believe this is a socialist program and I don’t think we’re picking losers and winners. I think we’re picking all winners,” she said.

Industry associations and big businesses also lauded the plan, saying it would help keep graduates in Idaho working for local companies or employers.

After taking about an hour of testimony, multiple committee members said they were uneasy with the bill.

Sponsoring Sen. Dave Lent (R-Idaho Falls) assured them a separate bill would soon be introduced to alleviate some of those concerns, like ensuring a grant recipient partially pays for their education and outlawing that money’s use to pay for room and board.

But Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon), another sponsor of the bill, made a motion to send it to the floor for amendments, preventing it from dying in committee.

“We talk about our go-on rate that’s been anemic,” said Guthrie, referencing the number of high schoolers who immediately enroll in a college or university after graduation.

“We haven’t been able to move the needle and it suggests to me that we need to have the courage to change our education model in Idaho and I think this is a step in that direction,” he said.

Amending a bill on the floor opens up a free-for-all for anyone to change the bill however they’d like, up to and including completely replacing it with a different subject entirely.

The plan barely passed out of the House by one vote last month.

It’s unclear when the issue could be taken up again.

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.

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