Bill Description: Senate Bill 1255 creates the Empowering Parents Grant Program, which gives families $1,000 per student to cover certain educational expenses, with a maximum of $3,000 per family.
Does the bill expand the existing government monopoly on education and shrink family and student choice or agency? (-) Conversely, does the bill expand the ability for families and students to choose the educational options that best meet their needs free of government intervention or coercion? (+)
Senate Bill 1255 expands the ability for families and students to choose some private educational options that best meet their needs by giving each student $1,000 (up to a limit of $3,000 per family) for certain enumerated expenses. These include computers and other technological devices, textbooks, therapies, programs offered by a public school, standardized testing fees, educational services, and other expenses approved by the state department of education. This gives families greater flexibility to personalize each child’s education and use the services of private providers outside the public education system.
Although Senate Bill 1255 allows families to use Empowering Parents Grant Program money for “[e]ducation services,” it does not explicitly allow families to use it for private school tuition and fees. This prevents low income families from choosing a private education for their children.
Does the bill finance education based on the student rather than the institution? (+) Conversely, does the bill finance education based on an institution or system? (-)
Senate Bill 1255 finances students by giving eligible students $1,000 to use for defined educational expenses.
Although eligible students are entitled to $1,000 grants, Senate Bill 1255 caps grant awards at $3,000 per family. This means that a family with four or more eligible students would not receive all the grant money to which it would otherwise be entitled. Therefore the bill funds some students, but does not fund all students on an equal basis.
Empowering Parent grants will initially be funded through money received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. This means that the program does not increase spending in the general fund or the existing education budget, at least in the first year. The alternative to returning ARPA funds to families to make educational choices for their children would be to funnel these dollars into the public education system, which reduces family choice, flexibility and autonomy.
While Senate Bill 1255 initially relies on one-time federal funds, it could increase future spending in the general fund or the education budget by creating an ongoing program. Funds will be drawn from the Legislature’s appropriations, donations, and interest payments and the program will be “continuously appropriated.” Since $1,000 is not enough to deliver a personalized educational experience for a child or to leave an existing public school, this bill increases Idaho’s spending on education. If the bill returned a larger amount of education dollars to students — enough that they could afford to completely personalize their entire education, but less than current spending on public schools — the state could save taxpayer dollars.
The amount awarded per student ($1,000) is approximately 10% of what the average public school spends on a per-pupil basis, and it is not enough to enable low-income families to leave a public school for a private school or alternative school that fits their needs. Even with these grants, low-income students will remain trapped in the public education system.
Does the bill create more transparency or accountability in public education institutions? (+) Conversely, does the bill reduce transparency and accountability in such institutions? (-)
Senate Bill 1255 increases accountability in public education institutions by establishing a parent advisory panel to advise the State Board of Education “[o]n how to implement, administer, and improve the program.” The parent advisory panel will consist of seven members who are parents of eligible students and come from various parts of the state. Parent advisory panel members will serve one-year terms but may be reappointed if they remain eligible. Senate Bill 1255 also increases accountability in public education institutions by requiring the State Board of Education to choose an outside party to evaluate the program. This review will be conducted by June 30, 2024, and will be repeated every two years, based on criteria set by the State Board of Education, House Education Committee, Senate Education Committee, and JFAC.
Does the bill reinforce the idea of equal treatment under the law, merit, individual responsibility, personal agency, and expectations of academic excellence? (+) Conversely, does the bill allow for any type of discrimination against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group for any purpose on the basis of race, sex, color, economic class, ethnicity, national origin, geographic area, legacy status, or other identity group? (-)
Senate Bill 1255 upholds the idea of equal treatment under the law in some ways. The bill provides Empowering Parents grants to each eligible student, which is defined as any student in kindergarten through 12th grade. Grants are available to both public and nonpublic school students.
Although Senate Bill 1255 makes Empowering Parents grants available to many school-age students in Idaho, it grants preferential treatment to some students based on economic class. Grants will be distributed first to eligible students whose household income is less than $60,000 per year. Sixty days later, grants will become available to eligible students whose families make less than $75,000 per year. Sixty days after that, grants become available to “all other eligible students on a first-come, first-served basis until all available funds are distributed.” This means that some families who cannot apply until a later date may not receive funds to which they would otherwise be entitled.
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