After being locked in a dead heat through the early morning hours Wednesday, incumbent Republican schools chief Sherri Ybarra was re-elected for a second term.
At 9:17 a.m. Wednesday, with 956 of 959 precincts reporting, unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office gave Ybarra nearly a 17,000-vote margin of victory over Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson.
Final results show Ybarra won Bingham, Boundary, Canyon, Cassia, Jefferson and Kootenai counties. Wilson won Ada, Bannock, Bonneville, Blaine and Clearwater counties.
Ybarra thanked voters and pledged to continue working on her top priorities in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m honored that Idaho’s voters have once again placed their trust in me, and I look forward to building on the strong foundation of my team’s first four years with renewed energy and goals for the future,” Ybarra said. “In January, I will ask lawmakers to fund our comprehensive student safety and school security initiative, Keep Idaho Students Safe, and I feel confident they will share Idaho families’ urgency in protecting our state’s most valuable resource.”
Ybarra expressed optimism about the opportunity to work with Gov.-elect Brad Little, also a Republican.
“I know our incoming governor, Brad Little, also will be a strong partner for education,” Ybarra said. “Other essential priorities will continue from the past few years: advancing efforts to improve teacher pay, recruitment and retention; and providing support to schools and teachers to assess and improve student achievement. We will continue making gains in student-centered learning in both rural and urban areas, and build on our impressive achievements in advanced opportunities and college readiness.”
Wilson issued a statement early Wednesday afternoon conceding the race and congratulating Ybarra.
“This morning I congratulate Sherri Ybarra on her victory in achieving a second term,” Wilson said. “I wish her the very best in developing a vision for our Idaho schools. Every child in Idaho deserves the highest quality education possible and we should all work together to ensure that happens.”
The Idaho Education Association also issued a statement Wednesday congratulating Ybarra on her re-election. Throughout the campaign, the IEA supported Wilson, a longtime member.
“We know (Ybarra) cares about students throughout the state and are confident she will continue to prioritize the needs of those students, along with our great professional educators, as she sets a course toward making Idaho’s public education system one we can all be proud of,” the statement read, in part.
(Click here for coverage of Idaho’s gubernatorial race, and other elections with education implications. Click here for the vote numbers and Kevin Richert’s live blog.)
Ybarra is at the end of her first term as state superintendent. She ran a quiet, unconventional re-election campaign, though she joined a GOP bus tour of the state in the days leading up the election. Ads and the money broke in favor of Wilson, who traveled the state for months. Ybarra’s first major event was hosted by a former Idaho principal whose teaching certificate was suspended indefinitely by the Professional Standards Commission amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment.
Before she was elected state superintendent, Ybarra served as a teacher, vice principal, principal and federal programs director in the Mountain Home School District.
During their debates, Ybarra told voters that she brought experience to the job. If re-elected, she would almost immediately propose her school safety plan, built around an $18.5 million grant program.
Wilson said that Ybarra was misrepresenting her record on education and that Idaho students and families deserve a superintendent who would work and engage with the Legislature.
After a 33-year career in education, Wilson retired from teaching following her May primary win to run full time as a Democrat against Ybarra. Wilson grew up in the eastern Idaho town of Preston. She taught in Pierce, Orofino, Shelley, West Ada and Boise, most recently AP government and politics at Capital High.
Wilson ran on a platform of increasing student achievement, retaining quality educators in the classroom and expanding early childhood learning, focusing first on all-day kindergarten.
Just after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Wilson said she was upbeat and positive — and continuing to watch returns with her friends and family.
“I feel very at peace. Calm and comfortable,” Wilson said. “No matter what happens, I feel like we ran a very competitive race.”
Wilson said she was not surprised by how close the race was.
“For me to run against a Republican incumbent in Idaho was kind of crazy,” Wilson said. “The fact that we have done as well as we have is really just so positive and I’m very pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”