‘Strong Families, Strong Students’ grants go live Wednesday

(UPDATED, 8:24 a.m. Oct. 20, with details on the contract.) 

Parents can begin applying within days for federal grants designed to offset the costs of at-home, online learning.

The State Board of Education Monday approved a contract with a Miami-based vendor to manage Idaho’s $50 million Strong Families, Strong Students program.

The state will launch the Strong Families, Strong Students website Wednesday, with the application period running through Dec. 8.

Parents will be able to apply for grants to cover expenses related to online instruction — such as computing devices, internet connectivity and online learning materials. Families can tap into the $50 million grant pool, or seek reimbursement for prior purchases.

Grants can total $1,500 per student or $3,500 per family.

With little discussion, the State Board unanimously approved a contract with ClassWallet, a vendor which has operated similar online marketplace programs in other states. The base contract amount is $515,000, but ClassWallet will be able to collect fees that will bring the value of the contract to roughly $2 million, State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said Monday.

The money will come from the $50 million of federal funding for the grant program. No money will come from the state or consumers.

ClassWallet’s fees will be more or less in line with other states, State Board chief planning and policy officer Tracie Bent said Monday.

The state Department of Administration gave the State Board the go-ahead to award a no-bid contract to ClassWallet. One reason was timing: The money for the grant program comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. States must spend their share of CARES Act money by the end of the calendar year.

ClassWallet is represented by the Strategos Group lobbying firm, Keith Ridler of the Associated Press reported Monday. Former state schools superintendent and current state Republican Party chairman Tom Luna is a partner in the firm, Ridler reported.

“Our understanding is that the vendor was chosen based on its experience successfully running similar programs in other states and that Tom Luna’s affiliation with the vendor had no bearing on the decision to select the company,” Marissa Morrison Hyer, a spokeswoman for Gov. Brad Little, told Ridler Monday.

Little proposed the grant program in September.

“When parents have to step in to provide instruction and equipment due to school-related closures, we see them pushed out of the work force – something that strains our economic rebound,” Little said after Monday’s State Board vote.



Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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