BLACKFOOT — Political newcomer Julianne Young anticipates a lot of learning in her first year in the Idaho Legislature.
Some learning will center on more “procedural” matters, Young says, such as gaining her bearings inside a sprawling and distant Statehouse. Young also believes some lessons will come in her attempt to effect change as a lawmaker, such as pushing for more skills-based education in Idaho’s public schools.
“I’m not quite sure just how to do that yet,” said Young, R-Blackfoot, “but it is something I will do my best to learn.”
Young is one of six challengers to defeat East Idaho incumbent legislators in the May primary. Four of these challengers, including Young, face no opponents in the November general election, thus likely securing themselves as their districts’ next representatives.
Of all these races, Young’s hinged perhaps the most on education issues. In winning House Seat 31B, Young ousted third-term incumbent and House Education Committee chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree. The race polarized East Idaho conservatives by centering on VanOrden’s recent push to update Idaho’s 1970s-era sex education law.
Sex ed fueled the campaign debate
VanOrden sponsored House Bill 579 this session, which would have required public sex ed to be “medically accurate,” encouraged school-home partnerships and allowed guardians to exempt their children from taking part.
Young said the bill discouraged “self-discipline” among teens, removed language casting conception as a miracle and opened the way for “outside groups,” such as Planned Parenthood, to influence how Idaho schools teach sex ed.
In the wake of her loss, VanOrden called the assault on her bill both demonizing and an attempt to cast her as a threat to Idaho children.
“That’s what I heard. That’s what I saw,” VanOrden told Idaho Education News a day after the election.
On Monday, Young called the sex ed issue a “dead horse,” yet said her emphasis on the bill fueled at least one misconception about her own views. In contrast to what some have come to believe, Young said she supports sex ed in public schools — just not the way VanOrden wanted it.
“I support the law as written,” Young said Monday, adding that public sex ed is particularly useful for kids who might not learn about it from their parents.
Young clarifies views on K-12 funding
During a candidate forum in Blackfoot last month, Young said it’s not the state’s responsibility to close local funding gaps between school districts.
“Allowing local schools and local people to finance their schools is what makes kids succeed,” Young said at the forum. “We do not need more bureaucracy.”
Average daily student attendance remains the yardstick used to carve up state K-12 funding. Still, school districts are relying on a record amount of supplemental property tax levies to increase teacher salaries, build infrastructure and supplement other budgets. Yet districts’ abilities to raise local dollars can vary widely.
Young said Monday that she did not mean districts should limit or refuse state funds in place of local funds. Rather, the state should ease up on accountability mandates tied to state funds and give districts more leeway on how they spend money.
Young said more freedom at the local level would also help districts better connect kids to local jobs. For Young, an emphasis on facts and testing, born in part from Common Core’s widespread implementation, has overshadowed the teaching of real-life skills. While acknowledging that tests “have their place,” Young said the state needs to improve its push to produce students with a wider variety of skills tied to prevalent local jobs.
Home life fuels Young’s hope for change
As a former certified teacher turned homeschooling mother of her 10 children, Young says she understands the importance of helping kids develop skills. She touted how two of her sons have enrolled in college after a homeschooling experience supplemented with time spent on the family’s small farm, where the Young children milk cows, feed chickens and bunnies and play with the family’s Australian shepherd, Lady.
“We like to play,” her children say in a video detailing the family farm and voicing their political support for their mother. “We like to learn.”
Young acknowledged that encouraging a greater skills-based approach in hundreds of public schools across the state would differ profoundly from fostering such an approach with 10 kids at home.
She again reiterated that a specific plan for improving skills-based learning at the public level would take more thought and time.
However, embedding her own looming experience as a lawmaker into her kids’ homeschool curriculum could happen immediately after taking office.
“We can learn about it together,” Young said.