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After rocky start last school year, Empowering Parents Grant is open

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BOISE — Parents in Idaho could be eligible to receive $1,000 toward their child’s education, up to $3,000 per family.
The state recently opened up applications for this school year’s wave of the Empowering Parents Grant. This is the second year the grant will aid families in heading off learning loss after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Odyssey was hired by the state last year to run the grant’s marketplace and will continue to run the grant this year.
“We believe in ensuring that every child has access to high-quality education. Odyssey’s technology platform exists to help scale education funding programs, like Empowering Parents, to provide easy and modern access to academic resources that support and enhance the educational journey of every student,” Odyssey founder Joe Connor said.
Last year was ‘kind of messy’
Last year’s grant was riddled with controversy after the state called for an internal review of the program. The audit of the grant, which was completed in June 2023, found that over $83,000 of the grant money was misused. Parents were accused of misusing the funds, and Odyssey was accused by some parents of mismanaging the program.
RELATED | Parents under scrutiny for allegedly misusing Empowering Parents funds
Since then, the Idaho State Board of Education has attempted to refine the list of approved items to make the rules more clear and more in line with the educational needs of Idaho students.
Shelby Murdock is the owner of Snake River Strings, which has locations in Pocatello, Blackfoot and Idaho Falls. The company teaches music lessons and is one of the vendors available on the marketplace. Murdock was also spoke to the board at the October meeting when those changes were made.
“I have been a vendor since the beginning. I have a lot of other friends and business owners who have come to me for help. There have been a lot of problems, and it has been kind of messy,” said Murdock. “We have kind of banded together to help support each other and figure things out.”
Murdock says she hopes the marketplace will prioritize local vendors over big corporations. Another thing she hopes will change is the way the state Board of Education communicates with vendors.

Who is eligible for the grant?
All Idaho school-aged children are eligible, regardless of whether they attend a public school, private school or are homeschooled.
Awards will be prioritized based on the parent or guardian’s adjusted gross income, starting with eligible families earning $60,000 per year or less.
— Empowering Parents FAQs

“There’s been almost zero to no support or education to us as vendors. I have learned everything I have from trial and error,” said Murdock.
The board changed some policies to make things easier for parents and vendors.
Additionally, more items and services were added to the approved expenses list this year, including backpacks, computer cases, science tools, registration fees for educational classes, physical education equipment, musical instruments and the clothing that may be required for those classes.
Idaho parents’ experiences with the grant</h3

Alisa Memisevic Crews is a mom in Boise. She has a fourth- and a second-grade student. She used the grant last year, and she is looking forward to applying again.

“It was big help for sure,” said Crews.

Crews credits the grant to her daughter’s improvement in math after she used the funds for math tutoring.

“We are seeing a difference. My daughter is in the fourth grade now. … She missed half a year of kindergarten and first grade during COVID. She is still behind in math and reading but is better because we are able to keep up with math during the summer,” she said.

Melissa Rohde, a mom from Nampa, was able to sign her fifth-grader up for math tutoring with the help of the grant. She signed her first-grader up for one-on-one phonics and reading lessons.

“It was like a kickstart for first-grade reading,” said Rohde. “I have read that if children doesn’t become confident in reading by third grade, they have a higher chance of dropping out. … I am excited to continue my children’s tutoring sessions.”

Other parents have chosen to use the funds to help ease the cost of their child’s extracurricular activities.

“As a mom of active boys, I didn’t want any kind of activity that would encourage fighting,” said Lauren Georgeson, a mom from Pocatello who signed her son up for Southwick Blackbelt Academy. “I hesitantly signed him up for kung fu through the Empowering Parents Grant, and the changes I saw in our kiddo made me wish I had signed him up sooner! Kung fu has been an area where he has truly thrived! He is becoming stronger physically, but more importantly, he is stronger mentally and emotionally. He really respects his teacher, takes pride in taking care of his uniform. … Him having a ‘black belt attitude’ has caused a positive ripple effect in his life to where he has a better focus and confidence to face challenges in a positive way.”

Program has made ‘huge difference’
“I actually wrote a letter to the governor thanking him for creating this program.”
Allyson Potter runs Mountain Wave Swimming in Rigby, an extracurricular vendor approved by the grant’s marketplace. She says the grant gives back to the community by allowing more students to come her way.
“It’s been wonderful to be able to reach some of the school-age children that may not have been able to afford to come to our private swim lessons. We’ve had a great experience with the program itself,” said Potter.
Although the program has been bumpy at times, Murdock says she would still encourage other business owners and parents to apply.
“I actually wrote a letter to the governor thanking him for creating this program,” she said. “It has made a huge difference in our community.”
Almost $30 million is available to be given to Idaho parents this year, but the grant has already received a surge of interest. Parents wanting to apply for the grant should act quickly. The funds are dispersed by both income level and a first-come, first-served basis.
Parents should expect to wait up to 90 days before they know if their child was approved to receive the funds.
Click here to apply.
The post After rocky start last school year, Empowering Parents Grant is open appeared first on East Idaho News.

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