A $50 million grant program launched last month in Idaho that provides funding for technology and other expenses to families whose students have faced massive learning loss has already helped dozens of thousands of people, according to program administrators.
The Empowering Parents grant program was passed by state senators in February and then awarded to Primary Class, the developer of Odyssey, a K-12 micro-grants platform that hosts savings accounts- studies through its online portal, to be managed alongside the Idaho State Board of Education.
Empowering Parents, which launched last month for all families, provides $1,000 per student up to $3,000 per family to help cover the costs of technology, textbooks, tutoring and educational programs, among other options. It prioritizes families based on adjusted gross income, with families earning $60,000 or less funded first; then for families whose gross income does not exceed $75,000; and finally to families whose gross income exceeds $75,000.
“By ensuring our students have a strong academic start, we are more likely to retain them in Idaho as they thrive and contribute to the success of our state for generations to come,” the governor said. ‘Idaho, Brad Little, in a public statement last month. when starting the program. “Essential to this healthy start is giving families the options and educational support they find best for their children.”
The first month of the program was an unequivocal success, according to Odyssey founder Joseph Connor.
“It’s been very popular,” Connor said. Government technology. “In the first 24 hours, I think we had 7,000 parents who applied. And so there was kind of a clear request.
Connor said this week that there have been more than 50,000 student applications to date. In a separate press release last week announcing $4.75 million in seed funding, the company said it has verified and processed more than 42,500 student applications from some 19,000 parents in the Idaho program. . More than half of the funds have already been distributed and the remaining funds must be sent within 24 months of the launch of the program. Odyssey handles all marketing and outreach to ensure all families are aware of the micro-grant options available in the state.
“Over the past two weeks, we’ve been able to award approximately $27 million to families who applied, so not all of the money has been disbursed,” Connor said. “But we are in the process of going through all the parents who have applied based on the vetting criteria and priority…Based on the early numbers, it looks like all the money will be talked about and scattered. So it’s probably kind of going to be fully utilized like what we’re anticipating. »
When Idaho senators approved the bill, they stressed the importance of involving more parents and targeting low-income students. Connor said Idaho had a grant program like this in the past that struggled to get the word out to underserved communities, and Odyssey, which will run the entire program this time around. , will target these communities.
“One of our main areas of focus has been Spanish-speaking populations, which are a growing population in the state, as well as migrant workers,” Connor said. “Both were underrepresented the first time they went on the program, so that was kind of a big area of focus.
Odyssey helps with application verification — a five-minute process, according to Connor — and ensures parent applicants reside in the state, meet income parameters, and have a K-12 student. The company works closely with the Idaho State Tax Commission, as well as the state Board of Education to ensure these parameters are met in the audit process.
Once families receive a micro-grant, they can visit the Odyssey platform and find a list of approved vendors where they can purchase educational items, which may also include computer equipment, internet access, or even fees for assessments. national standards. Connor said purchases could even be made at a physical retailer, as the purchase would still go through an online portal at the respective authorized supplier. Additionally, services such as tutors go through a verification process before being approved for the program.
“This is essentially a closed market, so anyone wishing to participate as a business should apply. We have certain criteria they have to meet,” Connor said. “Beyond that, we actually verify each individual transaction, so each transaction generates an invoice.”
After the two-year Empowering Parents program with Idaho, Connor said he hopes lawmakers will extend the grant and that Odyssey can continue working with the state. He said there are already more than 18 other states across the country using similar grants, and he hopes Odyssey will work with some of them to run their respective programs, though the company, founded in 2021 , does not yet have the staff. to face them all. The new round of seed funding, led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, will help Odyssey accelerate hiring to meet demand for its services, as well as product development.
“Beyond Idaho, we had [more] incoming demand for our services that we are unlikely to be able to track. Administrators have reached out to other states based on our early positive results in Idaho, wanting to discuss taking over their program,” Connor said. “That’s why we went out and increased the round so we could grow. … We were able to demonstrate that there is a clear market need. We were able to demonstrate that we could create a product and help states do that. function.