Senate Education chair faces a Republican primary rematch


This is one of a series of stories spotlighting some of Idaho’s most important legislative primaries. Check back for more stories before the May 21 election, and read previous stories here.

In his run for a fourth term, Sen. Dave Lent is emphasizing big-ticket items from the past two years: the Idaho Launch postsecondary program, and a pair of bills designed to reduce school property taxes.

His challenger, Bryan Scholz, says he wants to encourage more competition in education.

The two Idaho Falls Republicans will square off in the May 21 primary, in a rematch. In 2022, Lent won easily, capturing nearly 68% of the vote.

The two candidates are running in legislative District 33, which includes a portion of Bonneville County. There is no Democrat on the ballot, so the GOP nominee will run unopposed in November.

Sen. Dave Lent and Bryan Scholtz

Lent’s record, and his priorities

Over the past two sessions, Lent has played a key role in pushing and refining Launch, which will provide high school graduates with up to $8,000 to continue their education. The program narrowly passed in 2023. This year, lawmakers spent much of the session looking to tweak the program, which ties student grants to a controversial state list of in-demand careers.

The first round of grants will go to this year’s graduating seniors.

Lent expects lawmakers to continue tweaking the program, but he remains a steadfast supporter. “I’m more convinced than ever that it is a game changer for education in our state,” he said in a recent interview.

If re-elected, Lent says he will focus on trying to rewrite Idaho’s complicated school funding formula, unchanged since 1994. Supporters of a rewrite want changes that provide additional funding to serve special-needs students or students with limited English skills. A bill to take a first step at a rewrite emerged late in the 2024 session, but never got a full House Education Committee hearing.

“We just need to work it earlier, get everybody on board,” Lent said.

A former Idaho Falls school trustee, Lent says he would keep pushing for a bill to require training for school board members. This year, his Senate Education Committee killed a bill that included training requirements.

As a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and chair of Senate Education, Lent plays a pivotal role in education spending and education policy.

JFAC was perhaps the most scrutinized committee at the Statehouse this year, after committee leaders overhauled the budget-writing process. JFAC passed two sets of budget bills for education and other state programs — “maintenance” budgets covering basic programs, and “enhancement” budget bills with new line items. Lent downplayed the overall impact. “The work we did on the enhancements was pretty close to what we’ve always done.”

But while JFAC operated under a spotlight, Senate Education receded into the background. Senate leadership routed several high-profile education bills to its State Affairs Committee. Lent said he was comfortable with the moves, and didn’t consider it a reflection on his performance. Instead, he said, Senate leadership didn’t feel comfortable routing must-pass bills through the education committee.

“You couldn’t really have a high level of trust as to what was going to happen in the committee,” Lent said.

Scholz’s platform

Scholz did not respond to repeated interview requests, but he filled out EdNews’ online voter guide.

He sharply disagrees with Lent on two signature issues.

Where Lent remains skeptical about siphoning public money into private education, Scholz ardently supports school choice. Competition, he said, will improve educational outcomes.

“Monopolies will always fight tooth and nail from being broken up,” Scholz wrote. “It is human nature. But monopolies stifle innovation in favor of easy one-size-fits-all solutions.”

Scholz opposes Launch.

“Yes, we want to encourage innovation,” he said. “Yes, we want to encourage our youth to go into the trades as much as to going on to college. But Idaho Launch just seems to be a march towards socialism when there are other ways to encourage vocational training.”

On his website, Scholz touts his endorsement from Idaho Freedom Action — the political arm of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a hardline conservative group. Scholz also decries Lent’s voting record, which has earned failing grades from the Freedom Foundation, and a record on budget bills that mirrors the Senate’s Democratic minority.

“You would never imagine that the seven Democrats would be successful at passing virtually every spending bill they wanted,” Scholz said. “With Dave Lent’s help, that’s exactly what happened!”

On social issues, Scholz says he opposes critical race theory in schools, and would try to halt “the inappropriate sexualization of children within educational institutions.” He did not elaborate.

The race at a glance

The Lent-Scholz rematch illustrates a growing public rift within the Bonneville County’s Republican Party.

Along with several other hardline conservatives, Scholz is running with the endorsement of the county’s GOP central committee. Meanwhile, District 33 Republicans censured Lent in February, saying he had failed to follow the GOP platform.

Lent enjoys a significant fundraising advantage. He has raised $17,850 for his re-election as of Tuesday. His supporters include the Idaho Charter School Network, the Idaho Education Association’s Political Action Committee for Education, and two fellow JFAC Republicans, Sen. Van Burtenshaw of Terreton and Rep. Britt Raybould of Rexburg.

As of Tuesday, Scholz has reported raising only $2,001, including one maximum donation from Doyle Beck, a Freedom Foundation board member from Idaho Falls.

Get more information about the candidates at our online voter guide.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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