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Idaho Launch scholarship program clears state senate

Governor Brad Little's second inauguration
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Idaho Gov. Brad Little's second inauguration in January 2023.

After fits and starts, Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho Launch program is on a path toward a smooth landing.

The program, which would award high school graduates thousands of dollars in grants to pay for in-demand career training passed the Senate Wednesday 20-15. It's anticipated to cost taxpayers $80 million annually.

“There is no better way to support our employers than to get workers through their doors with the training they need to propel themselves and Idaho’s economy forward,” Gov. Brad Little said in a statement celebrating the vote.

Idaho’s Workforce Development Council, which is made up of business leaders throughout the state, would define which types of jobs and careers would qualify as in-demand.

That’s led to criticism that council members, who are appointed by the governor, would favor their own industries over those that would most benefit the state.

Opponents, like Sen. Scott Herndon (R-Sagel), said the legislation also simply won’t fix the state’s workforce shortage.

“We need workers that physically exist and this isn’t going to solve that problem,” said Herndon. “We need workers who, when we hire them, show up to the job.”

Other detractors call the proposal socialism, and that government has no role to play in workforce training.

Sen. Geoff Schroeder (R-Mountain Home) rejects that. He said government has had a significant hand in shaping society especially in the West, from the Louisiana Purchase to the Lewis and Clark expedition and beyond.

“The fact that we’re standing here was brought about by the federal government – the Bureau of Reclamation, the interstate highway system, the dams, the transcontinental railroad,” Schroeder said.

“This really represents the best of what government can do,” Sen. Carrie Semmelroth (D-Boise) added. “It partners with local businesses and industries to support communities and develop [the] future workforce.”

The measure previously passed the House by a single vote.

It had been held up over concerns by several Republican senators that recipients had no buy-in of their own.

That led to the creation of a second bill scaling down parts of Idaho Launch. Recipients would have to cover at least 20% of the tuition of whatever training program they enroll in.

It, too, passed the Senate, but still needs approval from the House.

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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