Governor’s race: Two divergent views on education

Gov. Butch Otter says Idaho is on a continuing “journey to education excellence.”

His Democratic opponent, A.J. Balukoff, called Idaho’s bottom-ranked per-pupil spending “downright shameful.”

Otter square
Gov. Butch Otter

That’s the split that was underscored Thursday.

In a guest opinion sent to Idaho newspapers, and posted on his state website, Otter hailed the work of his education reform task force.

“The product of their work was a slate of 20 visionary recommendations that now serve as our path forward on improving education,” said Otter. “It is the first time in Idaho history that we have a school improvement plan supported by teachers, administrators, patrons, the business community, and leaders of both political parties.”

Specifically, Otter cited a new tiered licensure plan — but this proposal does not have unanimous backing, and has drawn fire from the Idaho Education Association and some teachers. He also said Idaho is on track to “replenish” school operations funding, cut during the recession, and said the state is on a path to enhance classroom technology. “We are poised to build on our success in providing dedicated broadband Internet access for every Idaho high school — opening up a world of connectivity for our students, particularly those in rural and underserved areas.”

Balukoff square
A.J. Balukoff

In a fundraising email Thursday, Balukoff painted a distinctly different picture.

The crux of the email focuses on school funding issues — the spate of smaller school districts resorting to four-day school schedules, pay-to-play athletics, lost music and art programs and overcrowded classrooms.

“The Idaho Constitution requires a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools. Education in Idaho is anything but uniform,” says Balukoff. “The only way to change that is by voting out the top decisionmakers. Not only is our dead last standing in the country for investment in education unacceptable, it’s downright shameful.”

Balukoff touted his 17 years’ experience on the Boise School Board — and his opposition to Propositions 1, 2 and 3, overturned by voters in 2012.

The exchange came 75 days before the Nov. 4 general election.

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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