State expects to disperse $50 million Empowering Parents grants by mid-January

Within the next 30 days, the State Board of Education expects to completely award $50 million in educational grants to Idaho families, to address the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.

Through its vendor, Primary Class, the State Board is awarding $500,000 to $1 million per day into eligible accounts.

“As of close of business last Friday, 16,000 Idaho families have received Empowering Parents grant awards totaling more than $17 million,” said Mike Keckler, the State Board’s chief communications officer.

State officials expect to award the remaining $33 million to deserving families sometime by mid-January. “At the rate we’re moving, we will be into wave three in 30 days — if there is any money left,” said Tracie Bent, the State Board’s chief planning and policy officer.

Idaho parents with adjusted gross income (AGI) at or below $60,000 have until 8 p.m. Friday to submit an application and qualify for the first wave of prioritized funding. After the deadline, wave two applicants with income below $75,000 will be considered; after that comes wave three, for applicants with income above $75,000.

“Once the first wave is complete, the AGI limit will be expanded to households earning up to $75,000 per year. After that phase, if there are funds still available, the program grants will be available to all other eligible students on a first come, first served basis,” Keckler said.

Eligible families can receive $1,000 per student, and up to $3,000 per family for kindergarten through 12th grade students who attend an Idaho public school, a private school or are homeschooled. Empowering Parents grants can be used to purchase education-related resources and services such as computers and computer software, instructional materials, and tutoring and therapy services, according to the State Board’s website. Click here for the Empowering Parents website

Although it took approximately 30 days — from Nov. 10 to Dec. 9 — to award the first $17 million, Keckler and Bent now expect the process to move more quickly.

“It was a heavy lift in a short period of time,” Keckler said. “And we’ve been able to work through issues as they’ve come up. It has taken some time to work out some of the details that we’ve talked about and some of the challenges. The vendor has been responsive and we continue to work with him. I think we all wish it could run a little smoother than it did, but it’s moving and we’re getting money in people’s hands.”

The State Board and its vendor received some criticism and complaints for funding delays during the beginning phases of the new program, which kicked off in the fall.

Bent added that there are always challenges with new programs and new vendors. It’s easy to verify students who attend public schools, she explained. Those attending either private school or are homeschooled pose a verification challenge, because their parents have to provide documentation to the vendor.

“It takes time to do that verification. And that’s really the point I’d like to reiterate,” Bent said.

“We understand that it’s taken more time than the applicants would have liked. I think we all would have liked it to move more smoothly, but it is important that with any program where you have limited funding, that you’re making sure that people that get the funds are actually eligible for the program,” she said. “And with these types of programs — whether it’s in some cases fraud and other cases just errors and not understanding what the parameters of the program are — it really is important that we do our due diligence with these funds.”

There is adequate funding to cover all eligible wave one applications properly submitted by Friday’s deadline, State Board officials confirmed.

Empowering Parents is a state program funded by federal coronavirus relief funds. The grants are meant to combat learning loss during the pandemic, according to the State Board’s website.

You can send news tips to [email protected].

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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