State looks to expedite Empowering Parents grants

(UPDATED, 1:18 p.m., with details on the project timeframe.)

Parents could soon apply for their share of $50 million in education grants.

But first, the state needs to hire a contractor for the Empowering Parents grant program. Bids are due at 5 p.m. today.

The bidding window opened on July 26. The State Board of Education and the state Division of Purchasing is trying to expedite the process, in hopes of quickly launching a statewide online platform where parents can apply for the grants.

The platform is the key to starting up Empowering Parents, one of the most significant education proposals to come out of the 2022 legislative session. Gov. Brad Little and lawmakers agreed to tap into $50 million of federal coronavirus aid for the grants designed to address pandemic learning loss. The grants max out at $1,000 per child or $3,000 per family, and parents can use the money to cover a host of expenses, such as computers, tutoring or learning materials.

Families with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less will have first shot at the grants. After that, families making less than $75,000 can qualify for the money.

If recent history is a guide, there could be a high demand for the money.

In 2020, Little earmarked $50 million of federal coronavirus aid for Strong Families, Strong Students, a similar grant program. Nearly 18,500 families received grants,  but more than 26,500 families completed applications.

“Early in the pandemic we saw how impactful the ‘Strong Families, Strong Students’ program was for families and students throughout the state,” State Board executive director Matt Freeman said. “We want to do all we can to get the Empowering Parents program operational as close to the start of the school year as possible.”

The Division of Purchasing will review bids and award the contract as quickly as possible. Once that occurs, the contractor will have 30 days to get the online platform up and running, State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said Tuesday.

Two years ago, some questions surrounded the Strong Families, Strong Students bidding process.

The State Board awarded a no-bid project management contract to ClassWallet, a Miami vendor. ClassWallet was represented by the Strategos Group, a lobbying firm that hired former state superintendent and then-state Republican Party chairman Tom Luna as a partner, Keith Ridler of the Associated Press reported. A spokeswoman for Little said the contract was based on ClassWallet’s experience in other states, not its ties to Luna.

Parents can get updates on this year’s grant program by signing up at the State Board’s website. Parents will still have to register when the program goes live.

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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