Idaho bill would create scholarships for workforce training. Republicans aren’t sold

Darin Oswald/

Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s proposal to create scholarships for students seeking in-demand careers may face an uphill climb in the Legislature.

The bill would create a fund, administered by the Idaho Workforce Development Council, that provides up to $8,500 in grants to Idaho high school graduates enrolling in state and community colleges as well as workforce training programs.

The House Education Committee on Tuesday cleared the legislation by just two votes. “No” votes from seven Republicans suggest the bill may meet resistance during its remaining hurdles, including the full House, followed by the Senate Education Committee, which has a more conservative membership than past years.

Some Republicans in the House committee said they would prefer the money be directed to high school training programs, while others questioned whether the grants fall within the state’s purview.

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, said students should earn the money to pay for higher education themselves, the way his children paid to attend Bible college in Europe.

“People need to take responsibility,” Mendive said. “The more you pay, the more it’s worth.”

The $102 million fund — which includes $80 million set aside for workforce development during last year’s special legislative session — would prioritize in-demand careers, as employers say they’re struggling to find qualified workers.

“It’s a job-driven program rather than a degree-driven program,” said House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, who’s sponsoring the bill. “If we’re going to use taxpayer dollars, the target should be driving the economy.”

The bill would leverage another $22 million in state funds by eliminating the existing Opportunity Scholarship and Postsecondary Scholarship programs. Those offer up to $3,500 to students seeking two- and four-year degrees.

Blanksma said those programs have seen little participation, and they’re limited to state universities and community colleges, whose workforce development programs are at capacity.

“This expands the scope,” she said. “It just opens up availability for other programs that take those students in.”

Industry and education leaders back the proposal. A recruiting executive at WinCo Foods and representatives from the Idaho State Dental Association and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry testified in favor of the bill Tuesday.

Cally Roach, a retired business executive who now sits on the Idaho State Board of Education, said a lack of skilled workers is “the No. 1 challenge facing Idaho employers today.”

“This piece of legislation will get more skilled workers through their doors,” Roach said.