by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
The Idaho Senate passed the Idaho Launch expansion on Wednesday, sending it to the governor’s desk. Senators also passed a companion bill that makes changes to the program. That bill now goes to the House.
The original Launch legislation, HB 24, expands the existing Idaho Launch workforce development program to offer grants to Idaho high school graduates to use for eligible work training programs.
“Every student needs to have opportunities,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee, R-Fruitland. “This allows our students to get the short-term training that they need, that they otherwise would not be able to pay for.”
Proponents of the bill described the Idaho Launch expansion as a long-overdue educational pivot, and argued Idahoans would benefit by supporting a wider range of options beyond traditional college.
The plan is to offer options for students who “came out of our K-12 system with no vision, no idea what they’re going to do,” said Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle.
Opponents of the bill decried it as corporate welfare for government-favored industries – and some took issue with the fact the legislation originated in the governor’s office.
“This isn’t a free market solution,” said Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa. “HB 24 didn’t come from the people.”
Some senators agreed with bill proponents that supporting education is a proper duty of government, but they argued that workforce training is not.
“I think the private sector should develop the jobs within their own sector,” said Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Viola.
Others expressed doubts that the program would be successful due to existing economic conditions.
“I believe we’ve created our own workforce problems. Micron is laying off 15% of its workforce,” said Sen. Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell.
“In a time of record low unemployment – and a lack of available workers to train – we’re talking about this new major expansion of government,” said Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle.
After lengthy debate about the strengths of capitalism and fears of centrally planned economies, the Senate approved the bill.
“This whole [educational] enterprise is a creature of government,” said Sen. Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home. “It’s not taking over the economy, it’s providing resources to help accelerate the economy.”
The Senate also passed a companion bill that would reduce the grants to $8,000 or 80% of the cost of a program – whichever is less – and limit them to pay for only tuition, with added reporting requirements.
The original bill passed the Senate with a vote of 20-15, and the trailer bill passed 21-14.
Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, pointed out that the main bill now goes to Gov. Brad Little for his approval, while SB 1167 and its amendments to the program moves to the House with no guarantees.
“We’re handing away all of our bargaining chips here,” Ricks said.
After the bill passed, Gov. Brad Little said in a statement:
“There is no better way to support our employers than to get workers through their doors with the training they need to propel themselves and Idaho’s economy forward. We’re focused now on getting the trailer bill through the House. We’re almost there in achieving a transformative change for Idaho students, families, and businesses!””
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.