Idaho Launch Program legislation barely passes through House

Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 6:55 PM MST
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BOISE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —One of Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s budget priorities for higher education is moving forward in the legislature, after narrowly getting passed by the House Monday afternoon.

HB 24 squeaked through the House by a 36 to 34 vote, and will now be moving on to the Senate.

HB 24 vote
HB 24 vote(KMVT)

The legislation expands the existing Idaho Launch Program to high school graduates starting with the Class of 2024. Eligible graduates can receive a grant of $8,500 to be redeemed at an Idaho technical program, community college, or college of their choice. However, preference will be given to students pursuing in-demand careers based on job market data.

Bill sponsor Rep. Megan Blanksma and proponents of the legislation said HB 24 will help employers who are dealing with staffing shortages, by connecting Idaho kids with Idaho jobs.

“Through a conversation with a private business in East Idaho that stated he had 150 job openings this morning, if he hired every single welder, and every single machinist that was trained in the state of Idaho this coming year, he would still have job openings,” said Rep. Jerald Raymond. “He needs this program to help fill jobs in his business.”

Additionally, those in favor of the legislation said it’s going to help students who don’t have the financial means to go to school. Blanksma said the aim of the legislation is to be a “hand up, not a hand out”.

Those who were against HB 24 in part, saw the legislation as a form of government overreach, and they felt it isn’t the state’s job to fix issues in the private market.

Additionally, they were concerned about the cost of the program, and the burden it would put on Idaho taxpayers. The bill leverages and re-directs $102 million in existing budget capacity for the Idaho Launch Program, with $80 million annually from the In-Demand Careers Fund, and $22 million in existing budgets freed up from the elimination of the Postsecondary Credit Scholarship and Opportunity Scholarship programs.

“Why is it our role to take people’s hard earned money, take taxes out, and give it to students so they can go work for Micron. If Micron has a workforce problem, or any of these other corporations do let them go out there and recruit their own,” said Rep. Heather Scott. “It is not our job as a government to recruit and train employees, or help and train employees for them.”

Some were also concerned that there is no guarantee that students who take the money won’t go work for an out-of-state employer upon graduating from an Idaho college or trade school.

In the end HB 24 passed though the House by a razor thin margin, and upon passing, Gov. Little took to social media to thank Blanksma for her hard work.

In a statement the Idaho House and Senate Democrats said, “A majority of House Republicans voted against the bill, while every Democratic representative voted in favor, saving the legislation.”

Rep. Ned Burns echoed his colleagues’ joint statement and added:

The legislation is now likely to go before the Senate Education Committee, where four of the committee’s nine members are members of the Idaho Freedom Caucus. They are on record opposing the bill.

In a recent statement the Idaho Freedom Caucus in part said, “The Idaho Launch Program is nothing but corporate welfare, central planning, and socialism. It goes against the principles of a free market and is a complete waste of taxpayer money.”