Idaho Gov. Brad Little gives his State of the State speech in the House chambers of the State Capitol building on Jan. 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Following the longest floor debate of the year on Monday, a divided Idaho House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that would provide $8,500 workforce training grants to Idaho high school graduates to put toward career training.
Legislators spent more than two hours debating House Bill 24 straight through their lunch hour before voting 36-34 to pass the bill. Had just one of the 70 members of the Idaho House changed their yes vote to a no, the bill would have failed on a tie vote.
If enacted, House Bill 24 would expand the Idaho Launch program to Idaho high school graduates beginning in 2024. The bill would provide students with an $8,500 grant they could put toward career training at an Idaho-based training center recognized by the Workforce Development Council or an Idaho college, university or community college. Training for welding, plumbing, auto repair, lineman’s college, flight school, and a host of trades and careers would qualify.
The bill is a priority for Gov. Brad Little. In his Jan. 9 State of the State address, Little called for putting $80 million per year into the Idaho Launch program for career-technical education or workforce training.
Funding would come from the $80 million in-demand careers fund that legislators created during the Sept. 1 special session, with the amount to be set by the Idaho Legislature each year.
“When you look at this, don’t think scholarships — think jobs, not diplomas,” said House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma, the Hammett Republican who sponsored the bill. “So what it does is it targets in-demand jobs through the Workforce Development Council and it’s reviewed annually to make sure that it is targeting the proper places in the marketplace.”
Although the bill was supported by Little, and brought forward by the House’s new majority leader with 22 co-sponsors, it still attracted considerable opposition.
34 Idaho Republicans vote against workforce training grants on House floor
Several populist Republicans who debated against the bill said the grant program is a handout and not the proper role of government. Several House Republicans said the grants aren’t necessary because their own family didn’t need grants and they were able to put themself and their children through college or obtain a job without help from the government.
“Those students don’t struggle because of a lack of financial resources,” said Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot. “And the reason I say that is students have Pell grants. They have so many opportunities available to them and our four-year institutions that I would argue that money isn’t the primary obstacle that most students face. And I say this as a mom who has five college-age students, including one who is just completing a master’s degree here in the next few months and one who just graduated from high school. None of my kids have struggled to get a higher education because of a lack of finances, and it’s not because mom and dad are paying all the bills.”
Rep. Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene, said she didn’t have the money to send her two sons to college. But they worked it out, where one son joined the Army and the other one got a technical degree and became a mechanic
“We worked on it together to make sure that he succeeded,” Price said. “I didn’t do it with help from anybody else. We made this plan together, and we made it happen.”
Rep. Douglas Pickett, R-Twin Falls, said his father taught him to get through college with “a sense of dignity” because he worked his way through school washing windows.
“In a culture that is more and more valuing a sense of entitlement, I hope that we are not trying to add to that culture of entitlement, going down that road where we deserve it and we want it and we don’t want to have to do anything for it,” Pickett said.
Former educators in the Idaho Legislature say costs can be barrier to workforce training, college
But the cost of training and access to higher education are serious barriers that thousands of students across Idaho face, current and former educators serving in the Idaho House said.
Rep. Julie Yamamoto is a Caldwell Republican who worked as a high school principal.
“I know that it’s been said that cost doesn’t get in the way,” Yamamoto said. “I’ve talked with thousands of kids and they end up in my office … and it’s usually because of their behavior, or maybe their grades or maybe their attendance, and as you would delve into why they were having those issues, very often it was because they were having financial troubles at home as well.”
“I am going to tell you that there are a lot of kids that are in that spot, and we would do well to not ignore that,” Yamamoto said.
Rep. Matthew Bundy, a Mountain Home Republican who has taught for 20 years, said the workforce training grants will help students fulfill their professional goals and train up the next generation of welders, plumbers, commercial truck drivers, dairy workers, electricians and home builders.
“This program is going to allow us, the state of Idaho, to help these folks reach their dreams,” Bundy said.
The debate continued so long that some legislators debated twice. Near the conclusion of the debate, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said it was one of the top three debates he’s witnessed during his 16 years in the Idaho House.
In the end, the Idaho Launch workforce training grant bill had just enough support to pass the Idaho House. All 11 Democrats in the Idaho House voted in favor of it, while 34 of the Idaho House’s 59 Republicans voted against it.
House Bill 24 heads next to the Idaho Senate for consideration.