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Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on May 12, 2023
(UPDATED, 5:37 p.m., May 26, with revised meeting location.)
A newly-named Empowering Parents advisory committee will meet for the first time next week.
Over the summer, the seven-member panel will travel the state hearing from parents about the future of the microgrant program, which covers out-of-pocket expenses for items such as computers and textbooks, or services such as tutoring or counseling.
The committee, unveiled Thursday, will do its work as Empowering Parents evolves into a permanent state program — but faces increased scrutiny.
The state funded its most recent round of microgrants with $50 million of one-time, federal coronavirus aid — ultimately providing money to nearly 49,500 students in more than 25,700 households. The 2023 Legislature approved Gov. Brad Little’s request to make Empowering Parents an ongoing program, receiving $30 million a year in state money. This money could go out starting in the fall.
However, some lawmakers want to expand the program, using it as a vehicle to advance school choice. The Senate passed a proposal to add a $12 million pilot to the program, providing private school tuition grants to 2,000 families. The House never took up the bill, which could resurface in 2024.
And meanwhile, the State Board of Education last month said it was launching an Empowering Parents review, saying some of the $50 million of taxpayer dollars may have paid for ineligible purchases such as TVs, smart watches and clothing. These questionable purchases date back to mid-February, and the review is ongoing.
Little, Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder and House Speaker Mike Moyle announced their committee appointments late Thursday afternoon:
Courtney Abenroth, Rupert (appointed by Winder).
Holly Cook, Boise (appointed by Winder).
Amy Henry, Nampa (appointed by Moyle).
Laura Milton, Idaho Falls (appointed by Little).
Barbara Schriber, Sandpoint (appointed by Little).
Jason Sevy, Marsing (appointed by Little).
Joni Shepherd, Riggins (appointed by Moyle).
State superintendent Debbie Critchfield will serve as the committee’s nonvoting chair.
By fall, the parents committee will write up a report on the program and make recommendations to the State Board.
The group will hold its first meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday at State Board’s main conference room, 650 W. State St., Boise.
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