Idaho official defends state’s education system to lawmakers

On Monday, a top Idaho education official blasted in defense of the state’s public education system, which in recent years has come under attack from far-right lawmakers seeking to cut financial support. .

Idaho State Board of Education Chairman Kurt Liebich told the powerful Legislative Budget Committee that the state’s education system is directly responsible for the economic success of Idaho, which this year has a record budget surplus of $1.9 billion.

Lawmakers on the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee are hearing budget requests from universities and colleges across the state this week. Last week, lawmakers heard the budget request for K-12 education.

Last year, right-wing lawmakers managed to cut $2.5 million from the budget request for universities despite a budget surplus. An influential libertarian group that wants to abolish public education altogether says it will push for a $20 million cut to universities this year.

The Idaho State Board of Education has seven members appointed by the Governor and the statewide Superintendent of Public Instruction. The council develops policies for students from kindergarten to those seeking higher degrees.

Liebich noted several areas where the state needed to improve, citing reading skills for third-grade students and college entrance exams among them.

“But we shouldn’t waste our time trying to tear the system down, and we should all focus on incremental improvement in each of these areas every day,” he said. “Undermining our education system is not productive, and over time it will impact our economy and our quality of life.”

The reduction in university budget requests last year centered on objections to social diversity and critical race theory. Critical race theory is a way of thinking about American history through the prism of racism. Republican lawmakers have accused universities of indoctrinating students.

Republican Rep. Ron Nate, a member of the committee that voted for the cuts last year, made it clear on Monday that critical race theory would again be front and center when it comes to approving state budgets. education this year. He said he did not agree with what he said in some instructions to educators.

“In this teacher training there is diversity, equity and inclusion, which is a manifestation of critical race theory,” he said. “Parents are frustrated to see more and more awakening in their schools.”

Proponents of public education have called this argument a red herring intended to undermine support for public education.

“We heard the concerns that were expressed in the Legislative Assembly last year, and what we’ve been trying to do over the last year is actually work out some definitions around these kinds of things. so we don’t run around the state looking for ghosts,” Liebich said. , citing a survey that the council had carried out on these subjects. “We’re really trying to strengthen our free speech and free speech policies, to make it abundantly clear how important we believe these things are in all of our education.”

The same day Liebich spoke to lawmakers, the board released the results of a study that found Idaho taxpayers are seeing an 80% return for every dollar invested in higher education. The study was commissioned by the board of directors and conducted by Emsi Burning Glass, based in Moscow, Idaho.

Liebich told lawmakers the state needs to focus on four key issues regarding education.

The first was to ensure school districts had the resources they needed to deal with learning setbacks caused by the coronavirus pandemic over the past three years.

Second, he said that there was significant growth in urban areas, while some rural areas were losing students.

Third, he said higher education was essential to the state’s economy. “I cannot stress enough the importance of a vibrant and healthy higher education system to our citizens, our business community and our state,” he said.

And, fourth, he said there was an inequity between rural and urban school districts that needed to be corrected, with rural schools falling behind.

Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little has recommended a record $300 million for K-12 education spending, and Liebich said he supports that budget request.

Lawmakers on the budget committee will hear various budget requests from universities this week, with votes on setting those budgets taking place later in the session.

Anything the committee approves will also have to pass the House and Senate.

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