The paper trail from Thursday’s task force meeting

During Thursday’s education task force meeting, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin alluded to two documents that weren’t available to the listening audience: a letter she’d sent to the Idaho Education Association, and a written response from Idaho’s university presidents.

McGeachin’s office provided copies of both documents late Thursday afternoon, after the meeting had broken up.

Let’s catch up and look at both documents:

The letter to the IEA

McGeachin’s July 8 letter escalates tension between the lieutenant governor and the state’s largest teachers union.

First, McGeachin criticizes the IEA for saying they were excluded from the task force — assertions the IEA has made on Twitter and in a May 26 Idaho Education News article.

In her letter, McGeachin said the IEA failed to follow up with the name of a prospective task force member, leaving her to choose from the 40 people who did apply.

“The IEA is pushing a narrative that they were intentionally excluded, but this claim is false,” she wrote. “The truth is that the IEA has not shown any legitimate, good-faith interest in our efforts. Instead, their actions seem calculated to defame those of us working to improve Idaho education in ways that may be at odds with the union’s ambitions.”

Obviously, task force membership has been a sensitive issue throughout this process. The Idaho School Boards Association had a representative on the panel, but pulled out in June. And the task force is stacked with members who seem aligned with McGeachin’s views on the state of education.

McGeachin then pushes the IEA to disavow critical race theory — and a national union, the American Federation of Teachers, which is pushing to implement CRT in all 50 states.

“The people of Idaho deserve to know if the Idaho Education Association will be following suit with the AFT or will the IEA disavow critical race theory and start listening to the concerns of the people on this issue?” McGeachin wrote.

As I noted on Thursday’s live blog from the task force meeting, the National Education Association, and not the AFT, is the IEA’s parent organization. But the message is clear: McGeachin wants the Idaho union to distance itself from national leadership.

In a statement Friday, the IEA didn’t address this part of McGeachin’s letter, but instead doubled down on its criticisms of the task force.

“Like other important education stakeholders, the IEA quickly recognized that the lieutenant governor and her committee were not ever interested in addressing actual educational needs in Idaho, or in helping Idaho students succeed,” the statement said, in part. “Ms. McGeachin’s letter did not, and does not, warrant a response from the IEA or any other individual or entity.  Rather, we all need to get on with dealing the real issues facing our schools, and not waste precious time with political theatrics.”

The presidents’ letter

Thursday’s meeting was supposed to focus on higher education issues, but there was little discussion about the state’s four-year schools.

Representatives of the schools did not appear before the committee — not unlike other education leaders, who have been no-shows during the task force process. Instead, the schools submitted a joint response to task force questions. McGeachin scarcely mentioned the response, which had been distributed to task force members.

Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee and University of Idaho President C. Scott Green co-wrote the Monday letter, also on behalf of Boise State University and Lewis-Clark State College. A couple of takeaways:

  • The task force asked the presidents to explain how diversity, inclusion and equity play into accreditation. The presidents said the schools align coursework with Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities “student achievement indicators,” including data on race, ethnicity, gender, age and socioeconomics. “We are required to ‘close equity gaps’ based on this data,” the presidents wrote.
  • Asked when this accreditation requirement went into effect, the presidents took a historical view. “Diversity, equity and inclusion have been a part of higher education for many of our institutions since inception. The University of Idaho, the state’s land grant university formed in 1889 under the Morrill Act signed into law by President Lincoln, has had a typical mission that included ‘access for all.’”

While largely technical, the presidents’ letter nonetheless seemed focused on a message. Diversity and inclusion policies, such as the one now proposed by the State Board of Education, are consistent with the schools’ historical mission, and important as schools try to meet accreditation goals.

The vote over the State Board diversity and inclusion policy — slated for August, the week of the final task force meeting — looms large.

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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