100 days in office: Critchfield opens up about the legislative session — and what comes next

Debbie Critchfield’s first 100 days as state superintendent can be described as nothing short of a whirlwind.

And the first-term official has no intention of slowing down.

After being formally sworn in on Jan. 6, Critchfield jumpstarted an education-heavy legislative session with a new executive team, a collaborative outlook on legislation, new budget ideas and a few distinct priorities for Idaho students, parents and educators.

Critchfield often worked 15-hour days — and never less than 12, she told EdNews on Thursday. Her blogs covered the main events of the day, but according to Critchfield, she regularly tacked on another two hours of emails, correspondence and prep, even after the blog had been posted.

The superintendent spent most of her time in Boise, and worked from home sparingly. Most days, she held back-to-back meetings with lawmakers, educators, students, stakeholders, journalists and community members — and monitored her legislation simultaneously.

Critchfield met with lawmakers throughout the session, and was often seen buzzing around the Statehouse (Darren Svan / Idaho Education News)

And she navigated the session with relative ease. Her three top goals — career technical education funding and support, parental rights and required financial literacy courses for high schoolers — were all signed into law by Gov. Brad Little after successfully passing through the Legislature. They’ll go into effect July 1.

The State Department of Education budget also easily passed through both chambers of the Legislature and landed on the governor’s desk.

But the session wasn’t without its challenges.

Critchfield’s push for required school board trainings didn’t make the cut, failing in the House on March 8.

But timing, Critchfield revealed in a Thursday interview with EdNews, presented the biggest challenge during her first three months in office.

“Has someone figured out where the bathrooms are at?”

Sitting in the student union building on the Northwest Nazarene University campus, just 20 minutes before tackling a multi-hour presentation to school leaders and educators, Critchfield opened up about the challenges of taking office halfway through the school year, just days before the legislative session begins.

“You get sworn in on a Friday, and the Legislature starts Monday, so you’re looking at what legislation you want to get through, but also wondering, has someone figured out where the bathrooms are at?” Critchfield said with a laugh.

Critchfield was formally sworn in on Jan. 6, alongside other elected officials (Darren Svan / Idaho Education News)

And that timing defined the superintendent’s first months in office. Her team spent most of their time at the Legislature, while also trying to lead the staff at the State Department of Education — most of whom were in the middle of their own projects from their time under the previous administration.

Though her mind was mostly on the Legislature, Critchfield met regularly with her executive team and other members of her staff throughout the first 100 days. She also began sending weekly emails to her 100+ staffers — not as business memos or reminders, but notes from the superintendent.

In her first email after adjournment, Critchfield thanked her staffers for their patience during the session. And in true Idaho style, she included a farming analogy to explain why the Legislature took precedence in her early months.

“What we do during the session shapes how they do everything,” Critchfield said. “It’s how we do business. To neglect that would be a disservice.”

SDE Communications Director Scott Graf agreed.

“You can’t run a legislative agenda in August, when the time is right,” Graf said. “Meanwhile, every day, you’re identifying things in the department that you want to put your hands on and affect in a positive way, but you just have to make a list, stay disciplined and wait until sine die.”

Despite the challenges, Critchfield says she’s “more than satisfied” with her first session as superintendent.

“I’m really pleased and happy, and that represents a lot of work.”

Now, she’s pivoting toward local districts and educators

Soon after the Legislature adjourned, Critchfield and her team hit the road for a “post-legislative roadshow” — a series of presentations in each of the educational regions of Idaho. Thursday’s stop in Nampa marked the third of six events.

The sessions serve to inform local educators, school board trustees and administrators about how 2023 legislation will impact them. The roadshow is one of Critchfield’s first steps toward rolling out her new legislation.

For a recap of the roadshow presentation, click here.

And other steps will follow.

For her CTE legislation, the SDE team is working on a timeline.

The $45 million Idaho Career Ready Students Program will make grant money available to school districts for CTE projects. Tied to the legislation is an application process.

The CTE funding will hit the books on July 1 — just over a month before most Idaho schools kick off the new academic year. Critchfield said she wants to take advantage of that time.

“I want to have proposals come to us by early fall so we can get money out the door,” she said Thursday. “We want to be able to go as quickly as possible.”

The SDE will also be working with school districts to ensure that the new financial literacy requirement and parental rights legislation are upheld during the coming school year.

Gov. Brad Little signs the financial literacy bill into law. Debbie Critchfield and Rep. James Petzke, both standing to his right, penned the legislation.


The financial literacy requirement goes into effect July 1, which has caused some teachers and administrators to take pause. But according to Critchfield, the legislation won’t prevent any student from graduating — the SDE will make waivers available to schools/students who cannot fulfill the requirement.

But many schools, Critchfield said, already offer financial literacy courses. The SDE’s goal is to work with districts to streamline the classes to fulfill the baseline requirements in the law.

The goal for Critchfield’s parental rights legislation is similar. Most districts are already fulfilling all or some of the requirements outlines in the parental rights bill. But the SDE is working with the Idaho School Boards Association to develop model policies for districts who need guidance, or want to alter their current practices to fit into the legislation.

Ultimately, Critchfield said her priority is helping districts and school boards understand and comply with this year’s education legislation.

“I don’t want to be here next spring, or a year from now, saying ‘Okay, now we’re finally ready to start helping districts,'” she said. “These are all things we’re working on currently.”

And the 2024 session is already on the horizon for Critchfield and her executive team.

They haven’t nailed down any priorities yet, the superintendent said,  but they’re talking about what they want to do, and who they need to talk to.

In the meantime, Critchfield plans to continue in the vein of her “can’t stop, won’t stop” campaign promise. She’s bulldozing through her work — and loving it.

“I’m so happy to get to go to work every day,” Critchfield said Thursday, just minutes before heading into one of her post-legislative sessions. “I’m still so encouraged about education in Idaho — I’m just really excited about it.”


Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Reporter Sadie Dittenber focuses on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley. You can follow Sadie on Twitter @sadiedittenber and send her news tips at [email protected].

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