The Idaho state Senate is now considering a new education choice bill – SB 1144 – that seeks to expand the state’s already-successful Empowering Parents program.
While it doesn’t go as far as Senate Bill 1038 and several other education choice proposals put forward thus far, it is a modest step in the right direction. It also follows some of the recommendations we made in our Education Choice Improves Outcomes study published in January.
Here’s what SB 1144 includes:
Expansion of the Empowering Parents to include “micro grants” of $1,000 to be used for “eligible education expenses”
Addition of transportation to and from a facility where education program is offered as an “eligible” expense
Addition of “tuition grant” of $6,000 that can be used for academic instruction, both traditional tuition and/or for the hiring of a certified teacher for a micro-school
There are some limitations. First, the bill makes it clear the money is subject to appropriation by the legislature, meaning it’s not open-ended.
Second, priority is given to students who belong to a family with a gross income under $60,000. If funds are still available, priority is given to students belonging to families with less than $75,000. And if funds are still available after that, money is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Funds would have to be spent within two years after they are awarded. Micro grants per family are capped at $3,000. And the tuition grants can be given to no more than 2,000 students.
The cost of the bill is $30 million for the ongoing micro grants, as well as $12 million for the tuition grants for five years.
Because the program is labeled a “pilot,” the bill requires the legislature to review the tuition grant process again before the 2028 legislative session.
When we testified before the Senate Education Committee on February 15th, we encouraged legislators not to make perfect the enemy of the good. While this bill is not perfect, it does include expansions that can help families get the educational options they need.
When it shows success, legislators can move to expand it even more.