Idaho Launch scholarship survives House committee

Gov. Brad Little’s newly proposed grant program narrowly made it out of a House committee on Tuesday morning.

The Idaho Launch initiative would provide high school graduates with a minimum of $8,500 that could be used to pay for training programs and college degrees related to in-demand jobs like welding or plumbing.

“This is an employee investment program. The easiest way to think of that is through jobs, not degrees,” said Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett), the House Majority Leader, the sponsor of the bill.

The Idaho Workforce Development Council would be responsible for surveying employers to identify the state’s most in-demand jobs.

Blanksma said the program would fill high-paying positions that currently have vacancies and make students more likely to stay in the state, though she said there are no requirements for students to work or earn a certificate in Idaho after graduation .

Students would also have to undergo career counseling before receiving the scholarship.

Two other state-sponsored grants would be eliminated under the plan, although current recipients could still apply to renew their grants.

More conservative members of the House Education Committee equated the proposal with socialism and questioned whether these programs were the right role for government.

Rep. Ron Mendive (R-Coeur d’Alene) said adults should be responsible for paying for their own education.

His own children wanted to attend a Bible school in Europe, which Mendive supported. But he said he and his wife would only pay for their children’s travel.

“We wanted them to have skin in this game and that’s missing here. People have to take responsibility,” Mendive said.

It’s similar, he said, to what’s wrong with the federal free and discounted lunch program in public schools, which covers 27.3% of first through twelfth graders in Idaho.

“If we could find a way for the students to work to earn credits for their school lunches, I don’t think we would see any of the waste that we do in this program because it doesn’t mean much.”

Idaho’s success rate for high schoolers who enroll in college or a career/tech program immediately after graduation has steadily declined — at 38% in 2021.

Rep. Julie Yamamoto (R-Caldwell), a former school principal, said cost was a major factor in that decline.

“Students I kept trying to encourage to keep going said if the program had cost $7,000, it might as well have been $7 million for them,” Yamamoto said.

The bill passed the 10-7 Committee and is now entering the House for consideration.

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

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

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