Democratic candidates agree on most everything — except charters

Democratic gubernatorial candidates A.J. Balukoff and Paulette Jordan agreed on most everything during a “Conversation about Education” hosted by the City Club of Boise Monday afternoon.

Both said Idaho public education is woefully underfunded and teachers are underpaid. They said all children should have free access to preschool as well as music, art, physical education and career-technical courses. They supported more tax dollars devoted to reducing the costs of postsecondary education because it’s “more out of the reach for more kids” than ever before, Balukoff said.

Their lone areas of disagreement were charter schools and arming teachers.

The City Club of Boise invited the five leading Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates to take part in a bipartisan discussion of education topics. The three Republicans did not accept the invitation.

The one-hour forum — moderated by Idaho Education News senior reporter Kevin Richert — emphasized education policy from early childhood through college.

Balukoff said he barely tolerates charter schools.

“Charter schools have not lived up to their promise, they have been copycats of one another and they are a great deconsolidation of our school system, competing with traditional schools for funding,” Balukoff said. “The best choice is the traditional public schools.”

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Jordan said she “respectfully disagrees” with Balukoff’s assessment of charters. Jordan said charters are necessary for children who are “not being served adequately” at their neighborhood schools, and she wants charters to be accessible to more Idaho kids while Idaho continues to invest in the traditional public school system.

They also disagreed — slightly — on arming teachers.

Jordan said she is firmly against the idea. To improve school safety she said she would hire and arm school resource officers and improve surveillance systems.

Balukoff said arming teachers should remain a local decision.

Other than that, the two were largely agreeable throughout the luncheon at the Grove Hotel.

Both said the greatest challenges in public education relate to funding.

The greatest asset in public education, Jordan said, is strong communities that pull together when times get tough.

Balukoff said Idaho’s greatest assets are teachers who “are working so hard and doing a great job with limited funds.”

Both said they would increase teacher pay to retain and recruit high-quality teachers.

“No question, teachers in our state are underpaid but it’s more than that. Schools need to create a supportive culture with quality professional development,” Balukoff said.

Jordan would like more tax dollars used to hire behavior health therapists and counselors to support children.

Both also would like to see more tax dollars devoted to reducing the costs of higher education through increased scholarships, advanced placement classes and career-technical opportunities.

Candidate biographies

A.J. Balukoff is a Boise businessman and certified public accountant, a graduate of Brigham Young University. He has been a member of the Boise School Board since 1997. Balukoff ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014.

Paulette Jordan served in the Idaho House of Representatives from 2014 through 2018, stepping down in February to focus on her run for governor. Born into a ranching and farming family in northern Idaho, Jordan is an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, a graduate of the University of Washington and was elected to the Coeur d’Alene tribal council.

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