Christy Perry, candidate for Congress

Editor’s note: A wide-open and critical election year is looming in Idaho in 2018. This is the seventh of a periodic series of interviews with candidates for state and federal office — with an emphasis on education topics. 

Every dollar the government spends on education is a dollar it doesn’t have to spend on prisons or entitlements, says state Rep. Christy Perry.

“We need to break the cycle of poverty,” said Perry, R-Nampa.

But Perry, one of six Republicans running in the open race in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, says Congress needs to scrutinize where the feds spend their education dollars — and make sure the money is helping at-risk students.

Perry, 49, is the latest candidate to enter the crowded race to succeed U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who is running for governor in 2018. She will square off in the May GOP primary against former state Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian; former Attorney General and Lt. Gov. David Leroy of Boise; state Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene; Michael Snyder of Post Falls and Nicholas Henderson of Post Falls.

Perry, who is serving her fourth term in the Legislature, has not been very prominent on education issues. However, she has co-sponsored legislation to launch a state pre-kindergarten pilot program, an idea that has gained little ground in the Republican-dominated Legislature. And Perry says she would like to see the state use federal funding to expand pre-K.

Perry chairs the House’s Local Government Committee. She also sits on the Health and Welfare and Judiciary, Rules and Administration committees — which have jurisdiction over the entitlement and corrections programs that compete with K-12 for state budget dollars.

On the federal funding level, Perry acknowledges that the Trump administration is looking at cutting programs designed to help at-risk students. On the chopping block are 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which provide before- and after-school programs in 42 Idaho communities.

Perry says she would want to look closely at programs such as Community Learning Centers, to make sure they are working as advertised. She stops short of supporting a phaseout of the U.S. Department of Education, as Labrador does. Instead, she favors scrutinizing all federal agencies across-the-board.

“You certainly shouldn’t be singling out the Department of Education,” Perry said this week. “They all need to have that done.”

Perry said she likes the Trump administration’s emphasis on school choice. She points out that many cornerstones of school choice, such as charter schools and home-schooling, have been accepted in Idaho for years. “I think our state has a lot to actually teach the national government,” she said.

Perry says she finds the controversy surrounding Education Secretary Betsy DeVos curious. DeVos, a billionaire school choice advocate, has been one of Trump’s most polarizing Cabinet appointees. Perry attributes the controversy to the fact that DeVos’ school choice ideas are new to many other Americans. “In Idaho, it makes perfect sense to us.”

However, Perry does think Idaho should push back, if necessary, when it comes to the state’s plan to comply with federal education law.

One component of Idaho’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan is a data ”dashboard,” which would use a variety of data points to gauge school quality. The feds prefer using a single, summative accountability rating.

“As long as it isn’t breaking any federal law, then I believe we have to back our plan,” Perry said.

Perry clicks off some mainstream Republican themes in describing her campaign. The co-owner of a gun shop, she says the Second Amendment is a key issue for her. She says she would also like to take a critical look at federal rules and regulations. But she would also like to apply her Statehouse experience, and her work on complicated state issues, to a job in Congress.

“We need to start leading this nation the Idaho way,” she said.

MORE READING FROM THIS SERIES:

Tommy Ahlquist: ‘It’s creating that clarity’

Raul Labrador: ‘If we’re going to take some of the credit then I think we need to take some of the blame at the governor’s office’

Brad Little: ‘We have an obligation to explain how important education is today’

Russ Fulcher: ‘I’m not a slash-and-burn kind of guy’

David Leroy: ‘We are making false promises to ourselves in many quarters’

Luke Malek: ‘We need every dollar that we are putting into education’

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