CALDWELL — Brad Little praised the state’s education spending increases, a five-year investment that provides a “great gift” to Idaho’s next governor.
Paulette Jordan said Idaho is mortgaging the future of its children, leaving a state ranked near the bottom “in dang near everything.”
It didn’t take long Tuesday night for the two gubernatorial candidates to stake out stark distinctions on the issues — including education topics. Appearing at a joint forum at the College of Idaho, Little and Jordan spent the better part of the hour framing Idaho’s present, and future, in starkly different terms.
And in the broadest terms, both candidates were accurate, at least on education spending. Little, Idaho’s Republican lieutenant governor, correctly pointed out that the Legislature has overwhelmingly passed K-12 budget increases in the $100-million-per-year range — bankrolling recommendations from retiring Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force. Jordan, a Democrat elected to two terms in the Legislature, accurately pointed out that Idaho’s education spending lags near the bottom in national rankings.
The candidates agreed the state needs to do more to increase teacher salaries, although neither candidate went into specifics. And the next governor will get a chance to follow up on teacher pay. Since 2015, the Legislature has rolled out the career ladder, a five-year plan to inject an additional $250 million into teacher salaries. The Legislature is likely to vote on the fifth installment of the plan during the 2019 session, weeks after the next governor is sworn into office.
Tuesday’s forum also illustrated some differences in education, and priorities:
- Jordan again made a push for universal pre-K — saying that, as a mother, she has seen the lasting benefits that accrue from early education. Instead of sitting on surplus dollars, she said the state should invest that money in pre-K.
- Little — who says he favors an early education grant program instead of universal pre-K — called for putting more dollars into the early elementary grades. He also said the state needs to continue investing in career-technical education and higher education, increasing the connections between the K-12 and postsecondary systems.
- Jordan said the state could spend more wisely in several areas. She said Medicaid expansion could save Idaho $600 million over 10 years and said the state could save $100 million a year by self-insuring its employees. Decriminalizing marijuana possession could cut corrections costs by $23 million. “I would rather see us invest more in our education system than we do in our prison system.”
- Pointing out that Canyon County alone has nine school districts, Little stopped short of calling for school district consolidation. But he said districts can still consolidate administrative functions. He also praised the Canyon-Owyhee School Service Agency, which provides special education, CTE, gifted and talented programs and alternative high school for five rural districts. “We need to duplicate that all over the state.”
Tuesday’s event was not billed as a debate, but as a forum. The candidates were provided questions in advance, and spoke without time limits. The candidates did not stand at podiums, but instead sat on cushioned chairs — flanking moderator Jasper LiCalzi, a C of I professor of political economy, who referred to the candidates by their first names throughout the evening.
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True to the staging, the two candidates were cordial. Neither candidate criticized their opponent’s positions — and the cross-talk and cross-examination of a typical debate was non-existent.
Still, Tuesday’s event was a hot ticket. A 200-seat auditorium at the C of I’s Langroise Center for the Performing and Fine Arts was filled to capacity. An overflow audience watched on monitors in the building’s reception area.