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News >  Idaho

Idaho Launch faces another fight in Senate after narrow escape from House

Feb. 7, 2023 Updated Wed., Feb. 8, 2023 at 3:44 p.m.

By Steve Kiggins The Times-News

TWIN FALLS — Gov. Brad Little’s push to ramp up education spending, one of his budget priorities for the 2023 legislative session, emerged from the Idaho House of Representatives looking like a schoolboy who got roughed up but still won the recess football game.

Another bruising contest likely awaits in the Senate.

House Bill 24, which would expand the Idaho Launch program to include an $8,500 scholarship for graduating Idaho high school seniors beginning in 2024, survived by the narrowest of votes in the lower chamber, passing 36-34 on Monday following the longest floor debate of the session.

Seven of eight Magic Valley representatives voted for HB24, which would bring about what Little hailed as the largest single investment in career technical and workforce education in state history during his State of the State address last month.

Oakley Republican Doug Pickett voted against it.

Idaho Launch will produce a split among the Magic Valley’s Senate contingent, too.

While Sen. Linda Wright Hartgen (R-Twin Falls) is a bill sponsor and will vote to back Little’s vision, and Sen. Ron Taylor (D-Hailey) seems a safe bet, too, given Democrats’ unanimous support in the House, Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld (R-Twin Falls) is part of the Idaho Freedom Caucus that labeled the program as “nothing but corporate welfare, central planning, and socialism” in a news release this week.

Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon (R-Burley) did not immediately respond to the Times-News’ request for comment Tuesday.

“If we can get it to run through Commerce Committee (since it is a labor type bill), it stands a better chance of moving forward,” Hartgen told the Times-News via email Tuesday. “I believe we have the vote on the floor, even though close. Time will tell.”

The bill’s path through the Education Committee, by comparison, appears rocky at best. Four of the group’s nine senators align with Zuiderveld on the Freedom Caucus, which is urging lawmakers to oppose “this foolish legislation.”

Rather, the Freedom Caucus called on Little to support universal Education Savings Accounts with funding that would follow students to the school of their choice and provide the state with what it called a pathway to “true education freedom.”

“The program promises every Idaho high school graduate $8,500 in taxpayer money to use at an ‘approved’ college, university, or workforce training program in the state. While this sounds ok, the money comes with strings,” the Freedom Caucus said in its release. “And once these workers are trained, there is no guarantee they will remain in Idaho. Would Idaho taxpayers be paying to train Idaho workers or workers for the rest of the United States?”

The expanded Idaho Launch program, if enacted, would allow for graduating seniors to attend an in-state university, community college, career technical or workforce training program of their choice with an $8,500 grant. That would be enough, for example, to pay for two years at the College of Southern Idaho, thus reducing the burden of educational debt.

Despite a close call in the House — a single “yes” vote changed to a “no” would have crashed the bill — Little applauded state representatives in an exuberant statement that included three exclamation marks.

“Our students without the means to ‘go on’ after high school will have a more robust pathway to a rewarding career,” Little said. “This is about Idaho students STAYING in Idaho to work in Idaho jobs!”

He added, “On to the Senate!”

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