ISBA severs its ties with controversial national organization

Idaho School Boards Association president Jason Knopp, foreground. Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho EdNews

Months after the National School Boards Association came under fire for its comments about parental protests, the Idaho School Boards Association is severing its ties to the group.

The ISBA’s executive board voted Monday to break off from the NSBA, effective immediately.

The ISBA will instead join a fledgling national consortium — one that ISBA leaders hope will take a less partisan approach.

“We need to be a part of something that’s moving in the right direction,” Jason Knopp, the ISBA’s president, said Monday afternoon.

Knopp announced the ISBA’s move Monday during a Senate Education Committee presentation — attended by more than 100 Idaho trustees, who are in Boise this week for the group’s annual Day on the Hill lobbying drive.

ISBA is one of the state’s preeminent school lobbying groups, representing about 800 trustees and charter school board members from across the state. But the group’s membership with NSBA has drawn scrutiny at the Statehouse.

The controversy began on Sept. 29, when the NSBA wrote a letter to President Biden, asking federal law enforcement to address a “growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation” at school trustee meetings across the nation, suggesting the actions could amount to domestic terrorism.

The backlash was sharp and swift, and on Oct. 13, the ISBA distanced itself from the letter. “ISBA was never asked to provide input nor were we informed that the letter was being sent. Despite that, it had the appearance of carrying the endorsement of every state association and its members.”

The NSBA later apologized, but on Oct. 26, 35 legislators co-signed their own letter, urging ISBA to rescind its NSBA membership.

Knopp — an eight-year member of the Melba school board, who has filed initial paperwork for a possible run for the Idaho House of Representatives ­— told senators that the ISBA tried to take a slow approach to the controversy.

“We decided, ‘we’re not just going to jump off the ship.’” He said.

But after the ISBA sent suggestions to the national board, and after Knopp attended a one-day session with NSBA leadership in Washington. D.C., he said he became convinced that the national group wasn’t going to act on the issue.

ISBA’s decision to rescind its membership was not unprecedented. Nineteen state organizations — mostly in Republican-leaning states — have severed their NSBA ties, the Washington Post reported in January.

From here, the ISBA is looking for a new organization. Organizations in about 20 states are looking to form a new consortium, ISBA executive director Misty Swanson said Monday afternoon.

Sen. David Lent, a former Idaho Falls school trustee, urged the ISBA to find a way to reap the benefits of membership in a larger organization: training, and a perspective on national issues such as school safety. But he didn’t second-guess the ISBA’s move.

“We all know the train wreck that happened with NSBA,” said Lent, R-Idaho Falls.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday