Legislative roundup, 4.21.21: Anti-sectarianism bill gets a rewrite; McGeachin’s indoctrination task force takes shape

(UPDATED, 9:02 p.m. Wednesday, with the bill number). 

Amid a turbulent Statehouse debate over social justice in education, Idaho lawmakers have introduced a new proposal dealing with “nondiscrimination” in public schools.

The legislation, House Bill 377, would bar public schools from spending money for “certain purposes” it deems discriminatory. Those “purposes” include compelling students to “adhere to” any of three tenants the bill argues are “often found in ‘critical race theory.'”

They are:

  • That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior
  • That individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin
  • That individuals, by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin

The legislation is an apparent rewrite of House Bill 375, a bill targeting sectarianism and critical race theory that was abruptly yanked from consideration Tuesday just a day after it was introduced. Unlike the original, HB 377 makes no mention of “sectarianism.”

“This bill establishes education and fiscal policy for the state regarding dignity and nondiscrimination in public education,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, as she presented the proposal. “It includes also fiscal policy prohibiting the use of monies for prohibited purposes as described in the bill.”

Horman is one of a group of conservative legislators who has voiced concerns over public schools spreading social justice activism and critical race theory to students.

Rep. Wendy Horman

Assistant Minority Leader Illana Rubel said, “I feel that there’s just an imaginary problem to some extent being addressed here. I really don’t think we have a problem in our education system such that we need to be putting conditions on funding, etc. But given that this will have a full hearing in committee. I will reluctantly vote to introduce. But again, I don’t understand the basis for why we’re going down this path at all.”

The House Ways and Means Committee, comprised mostly of House leadership, voted to introduce the bill, with Rubel’s fellow Democrats on the committee, Lauren Necochea of Boise and Sally Toone of Gooding, dissenting. The House Education Committee will take up the new bill Thursday morning, according to Horman.

Rubel questioned a piece of the proposal that would prohibit schools from directing or compelling students “to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to” the three tenants it decries.

“I’m wondering what problems debate teachers might have or really in any class where they … try to encourage that classroom discussion by assigning students to one side or another,” said Rubel, D-Boise.

Said Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, “You’ll notice the word “personally” adopt or adhere to. So, this is not just a role play. This is not just a debate where we’re obviously taking turns taking different sides.”

The proposal comes out of a House that’s killed three major education budgets this session over social justice concerns. In killing the state’s K-12 teacher salaries budget, discontented representatives vowed not to pass the $1.1 billion bill until “intent language” restricting social justice education is added to law.

Since then, no such “intent language” has been codified, and no other education budget bills have seen a vote.

McGeachin says new indoctrination task force is ramping up

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s new indoctrination task force is ramping up its search for communist, socialist and social justice-slanted teachings in Idaho public schools, her office announced Wednesday.

“One of our primary goals with this task force is to give concerned citizens a voice regarding education in Idaho,” McGeachin said in a press release. “If you, your child, or someone close to you has information regarding problematic teachings on social justice, critical race theory, socialism, communism, or Marxism, please provide us with as much information as you are comfortable sharing.”

She began forming the “Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education” earlier this month, echoing concerns about social justice education pronounced by fellow hardline conservatives in the Legislature and by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative libertarian group.

One of those lawmakers, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, will co-chair the task force, saying she intends to “root out critical race theory and bolster America’s core values” in the position.

McGeachin announced the task force’s founding a day after Giddings and Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, made a failing attempt in the Joint-Finance Appropriations Committee to insert $4,000 into her office budget to support the indoctrination group. That budget has since been sent back to the drawing board after both complained to the House of a separate cut to McGeachin’s budget, which trimmed her staff funding from three employees to two and a half.

Meanwhile, McGeachin is conducting interviews as she recruits more members. She plans to hold meetings monthly in May, June, July and August and announce the force’s full membership in the coming weeks.

Powerball gets a one-year reprieve; schools get nearly $9 million

The big education budgets are going nowhere fast, but on Wednesday, Idaho schools received a payday approaching $9 million.

That’s because the Idaho Lottery will continue to offer the Powerball game until 2022.

It had looked like the Idaho Lottery would need to drop Powerball in August, after lawmakers balked at allowing the state to take part in an international lottery including the United Kingdom and Australia.

The international lottery is now on hold, which means Idahoans will be able to continue to play Powerball.

“We believe that international sales of Powerball are inevitable and Idaho law will have to be changed in 2022 for players to remain able to enjoy the world’s most popular lottery game,” state lottery Director Jeff Anderson said Wednesday. “We will continue to responsibly work with the Idaho Legislature, our players, and our retailers to ensure Idahoans have the freedom to enjoy Powerball in Idaho.”

Powerball delivers about $14 million in annual dividends to public schools and the state Permanent Building Fund; the schools’ share comes to $8.75 million.

Idaho has been part of a multistate Powerball compact since 1992.

This story is developing and will be updated throughout the day. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed.

About Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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