UPDATED: Empowering Parents grants are on the way, despite glitches

UPDATED, Thursday, Oct. 13, with details on a processing glitch that affected some grant applications, and updated numbers on approved grants.

Nearly 11,000 Idaho families have gotten the word they were waiting for.

They’ll be able to spend federally funded grants to pay for their education needs: for anything from tutoring to a computer.

These notifications, which started rolling out Friday, represent the latest step in the launch of the $50 million Empowering Parents education grants program.

Approved by the 2022 Legislature, the program will cover grants of up to $1,000 per child or $3,000 per family.

Here’s where things stand:

Who has the go-ahead? A total of 10,980 families across Idaho, State Board of Education spokesman Mike Keckler said late Thursday afternoon.

All of these families have an annual household income of $60,000 or less — which puts them in the first wave of grant applicants.

Any hiccups so far? After Idaho Education News published a first version of this story Wednesday, several online commenters said they’d initially been approved for a grant, only to receive another email rejecting their application.

The problem had to do with applications tied to joint tax returns. The applications were processed, using only the primary Social Security number on a tax return. When the Social Security number on the grant application didn’t match the primary Social Security number on a tax return, the state rejected the grant application.

The problem has been corrected, Keckler said Thursday. “The (State Board office) and the state Tax Commission worked immediately to rectify the issue so that an applicant’s Social Security number is matched against both the primary and secondary numbers listed on tax returns.”

Can families start spending grant money? Not so fast. First, the state needs to put the grant money in a digital wallet. Then the families can start spending the money from a group of approved vendors.

What can families do in the meantime? They can browse. They can look through the Empowering Parents online marketplace, which is now live, for a vendor that fits their needs. There are 80 vendors in the marketplace now, offering 114 services, Keckler said. The State Board hopes to add more.

Are families still waiting for word from the state? Yes. The state’s contractor is still processing 14,788 grant applications — making sure applicants have kids in the K-12 system and meet income guidelines.

What if you’re waiting on word? Doublecheck your grant application. Some applications are incomplete, Keckler said, so the State Board is encouraging applicants to go back online and make sure their paperwork is finished.

Is it too late to apply? No. Parents can sign up here.

The State Board is still working through two groups of applications — for families making less than $60,000 a year, and for families making $60,000 to $75,000 a year.

But families making more than $75,000 a year can apply, and could get grants if money is still available.

Meanwhile, vendors can still apply for the online marketplace.

A deeper dive: Idaho Education News took a closer look at the Empowering Parents contract — and the inexperienced vendor that has the job of shelling out $50 million in grants. Read it here.

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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