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Idaho nonprofits, schools ordered to comply with AG Labrador’s investigation file photo
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Dozens of nonprofits and school districts have to give the Idaho attorney general’s office records related to federal child care grants they received, a court ruled Thursday.
Attorney General Raúl Labrador is investigating whether Community Partner Grants — federal COVID-19 relief funds directed to youth centers, school districts and counseling services for child care — were distributed in violation of the Idaho Legislature’s mandates. The grants, disbursed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, were meant to address learning losses related to the pandemic.
Last month, the attorney general’s office served dozens of grant recipients with investigative demands seeking a slew of information related to the grants. Many of the recipients filed a complaint that asked Ada County’s 4th Judicial District to intervene, calling the attorney general’s demands and 20-day deadline unreasonable.
4th District Judge Lynn Norton ruled Thursday that the groups must supply records related to the grant by May 17. Norton denied requests for relief from 15 groups, including five branches of the United Way and five school districts.
The groups “failed to show they should be relieved from responding” to the demands, the judge’s decision said. The ruling affirmed the attorney general’s authority to issue investigative demands to collect information about the grants.
“This is a simple power the Office of the Attorney General has, to issue (civil investigative demands) in cases where we think that there might have been some malfeasance or something that may have happened wrong,” Labrador told the Idaho Statesman. “The court clearly stated that the attorney general’s office has this authority.”
The court partially granted relief to 19 organizations, including four school districts, after the attorney general’s office “failed to show sufficient evidence” that they may have violated the law. However, the court said the attorney general’s office can draft new requests asking the organizations to hand over information they were required to keep as part of the grant program, including grant applications, receipts, invoices, staff payroll information and other information directly related to the grants.
Lincoln Davis Wilson, chief of Labrador’s Civil and Constitutional Defense Division, who litigated the case, said the court’s decision narrowing the information that the attorney general’s office could demand won’t hinder its investigation.
“They are, in my view, substantially the materials that we were looking to get to begin with,” Wilson told the Statesman.
Katie Francis, a board member for grant recipient Idaho Resilience Project, which helps children work through trauma, told the Statesman by phone that her organization is “pretty disappointed overall that there wasn’t a better outcome.” Idaho Resilience Project was one of the 19 organizations that will only be required to provide grant-related information if the attorney general’s office drafts new civil investigative demands.
Francis said Idaho Resilience project will move forward with its mission.
“We want our time and our energy to be focused on doing the work with our kids and our community,” she said.
The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children is part of Labrador’s investigation, and its executive director, Beth Oppenheimer, also received a civil investigative demand from the attorney general’s office.
Oppenheimer previously told the Statesman she would need to hire a forensic information technology expert to fulfill the civil investigative demands, which sought information that included personal emails, social media posts and charitable donation records from current and past employees.
Norton said the attorney general’s office will need to file civil investigative demands on individual employees to obtain that information. The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children must only search its servers and computers belonging to employees for the information requested in the civil investigative demand.
Oppenheimer told the Statesman her organization is still navigating the decision but appreciates Norton narrowing the scope of the investigative demands.
“I think this whole case is unfortunate,” Oppenheimer said. “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to help some kids and families, and it’s unfortunate there are those in this state who make that difficult.”
When legislators approved the $72 million in federal funds in 2021 and 2022, they wrote in legislation that the funds “shall be used for serving school-aged participants” 5 to 13 years old, “as allowable by federal guidelines.” Federal guidelines included children 13 or younger.
The Department of Health and Welfare advertised the grants as eligible for programs that serve Idaho children ages 5-13. The guidelines also noted that it’s “allowable to serve other ages of children within the program, but you must at least serve children in this age range and funding may not be used for children over 13.”
Some grant recipients used funding for programs that includes students younger than 5. The recipients said in their complaint that they were unaware of any misuse of the funds, arguing that they used the federal money on programs they described in their applications.
In the Thursday decision, Norton said the attorney general could still believe individuals are “about to engage in” unlawful acts, even if they deny knowledge of wrongdoing.
“We’re going to do what the Legislature asked us to do,” Labrador told the Statesman, “figure out how it was that these groups and organizations and agencies did not follow the law as was dictated by the Legislature.”
The post Idaho nonprofits, schools ordered to comply with AG Labrador’s investigation appeared first on East Idaho News.

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