A year in the making, the $75 million Idaho Launch program opens - East Idaho News

A year in the making, the $75 million Idaho Launch program opens

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BOISE (Idaho Ed News) — Idaho Launch officially got off the ground on Tuesday morning.

The state began taking applications for the new postsecondary grant program — which could provide financial aid for 9,000 to 10,000 high school graduates pursuing a job in an in-demand career.

Some students got off to an early start. The application portal opened at 8 a.m. MDT, and 19 seniors applied within the first 15 minutes, said Sherawn Reberry, the Launch manager for the Workforce Development Council, the state agency in charge of starting up the program. Meanwhile, the liftoff began with more than a few questions about the new program — and with some ceremony.

On Tuesday morning, an hour after the kickoff, Gov. Brad Little was on the Boise State University campus, signing a proclamation hailing the Launch program.

“I really want to urge all Idaho students to sign up now, and get in the queue,” Little told reporters during a signing ceremony at Boise State’s Micron Center for Materials Research.

The $75 million in Launch grants won’t really go out on a first-come, first-served basis — and high school seniors can apply through April 15. But as he urged students to apply as quickly as possible, Little noted that many job training programs have limited space.

Launch recipients can receive $8,000, covering up to 80% of tuition and fees. Students can put their money toward four-year college or community college, career-technical education or job training. The top priority is to support students pursuing an in-demand career: 242 occupations that require some education or training beyond high school.

Supporters see Launch as a way of supporting high school graduates who aren’t necessarily looking for a four-year college degree, and might want to enter the workforce more quickly. They also say Launch will help Idaho businesses find qualified applicants for hard-to-fill job vacancies.

For Little, the start of the Launch program represents a milestone more than a year in the making.

In September 2022, he convinced legislators to put $80 million a year into an in-demand career fund. The one-day session provided funding and impetus for Launch, which passed a deeply divided Legislature, with some hardline conservatives dismissing the program as a giveaway to Little’s political allies in the business community.

Since Launch’s passage, the state’s Workforce Development Council has been working to implement Launch, setting up the application portal, settling on a master list of in-demand careers, and bringing school counselors up to speed on the new program.

And while Little went across the state Tuesday to promote Launch — with proclamation signing ceremonies scheduled in Rathdrum and Moscow — Workforce Development Council staff were meeting with high school counselors at a Boise conference. During a Monday afternoon session, council staff fielded a battery of questions about how graduates can use their grants, when the money will be available, and how the new program meshes with the state’s Opportunity Scholarship, which is geared to four-year college.

“I think there’s going to be significant interest in the program,” council executive director Wendi Secrist told a room full of counselors.

While the application window opened Tuesday, it will be months before a senior actually receives a Launch grant.

Acceptance letters could start going out by Dec. 31 — but seniors have to graduate high school before they can get a grant, and the money won’t be available until July 1, the start of the next state budget year.