(UPDATED, 1:38 p.m., with comment from Little’s office.)
The Empowering Parents microgrant program is a centerpiece of Gov. Brad Little’s education agenda.
Little is quick to talk up the program, which he launched in the wake of the pandemic. But he has been slow to talk about a State Board of Education review of Empowering Parents — and questions about whether some families used the taxpayer-funded grants to cover unauthorized expenses.
Since Friday — when Idaho Education News broke the story of the State Board review — Little has not responded to repeated requests for comment. His office finally responded Wednesday afternoon.
“Governor Little is a proponent of responsible government and transparency, and he has requested updates from the State Board of Education about the review of the popular Empowering Parents program,” spokeswoman Madison Hardy said.
The State Board is reviewing questionable Empowering Parents records dating back to mid-February. Board staffers have flagged grant awards that might have covered the costs of clothes, TVs, smart watches and household cleaning supplies.
The Empowering Parents program is intended to reimburse families for out-of-pocket education costs — such as computers or internet access, textbooks, tutoring or counseling. Families can receive up to $1,000 per K-12 student, or $3,000 per household.
The current Empowering Parents program has shelled out $50 million in one-time federal coronavirus aid.
But this year — and at Little’s urging — the Legislature made Empowering Parents an ongoing, state-funded program. The state will award another $30 million in grants this fall. The money will come from the $330 million in permanent, annual K-12 funding lawmakers approved in September.
In his January State of the State address, Little unveiled his $30 million proposal, and touted Empowering Parents as an important element of school choice.
“The Empowering Parents grants are effective, popular, and worthy of continued investment. Most importantly, they keep parents in the driver’s seat of their children’s education, as it should be.”