Editor’s note: A wide-open and critical election year is looming in Idaho in 2018. This is the fourth of a periodic series of interviews with candidates for state and federal office — with an emphasis on education topics.
David Leroy is running for office again, because he believes the country is at a critical juncture.
In the next few years, with President Trump in the White House, Leroy believes the country can fix a broken health care system, address public lands policy — and rein in overspending that threatens a myriad of federal programs.
“We are making false promises to ourselves in many quarters, and education should not be one of those,” Leroy told Idaho Education News in a recent interview.
Leroy, a Boise attorney, is one of three prominent Republicans running for an open seat in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, joining former state Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian and state Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene. A former lieutenant governor and attorney general, Leroy narrowly lost to Cecil Andrus in the 1986 governor’s race. Now 70, Leroy has spent the last two decades in private legal practice.
Like current 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, Leroy favors scaling back the U.S. Department of Education. Leroy would like to see the Education Department folded back under another Cabinet-level agency — reversing the Carter administration’s 1980 decision to create a free-standing Education Department.
“I think that has some very useful symbolism to it,” Leroy said.
But that doesn’t mean Leroy wants to see federal education funding dry up — including the $264 million that goes to K-12 in Idaho. He’d like to see the department continue to fund good ideas in education, but eliminate some of the red tape that hamstrings local school districts.
Leroy was noncommittal about two major Trump administration budget proposals — cutting Title II federal funding for teacher training programs and summer and after-school programs. Both programs are widespread in Idaho.
However, Leroy is skeptical about the Trump administration’s plan to shift $1.4 billion of federal money into various school choice initiatives. Leroy says he supports school choice, but he cannot see how the new federal money would not come with strings and rules that would actually restrict school choice.
“It’s one more adventure in federal control,” he said.
Leroy’s skepticism doesn’t extend to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The billionaire school choice advocate has proven to be one of President Trump’s most divisive Cabinet choices, but Leroy believes DeVos can bring a “new appearance” to the department.
“I like that she is sincerely invested in good education,” he said.
DeVos’ Education Department and state education agencies are now sorting through plans to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind. Idaho’s ESSA plan is due to the feds next week. Leroy gives ESSA mixed marks. The law’s student-testing requirements are “remnants” of No Child Left Behind mandates, but the states’ ESSA plans could represent a first step to foster state-level education policy.
On higher education, Leroy says the federal student loan program needs to be reviewed. Students need access to a “market-realistic” loan program, but current interest rates are exorbitant.
“It’s entrapping young adults,” Leroy said. “I think that’s bad policy.”
MORE READING FROM THIS SERIES:
Tommy Ahlquist: ‘It’s creating that clarity’
Luke Malek: ‘We need every dollar that we are putting into education’
Brad Little: ‘We have an obligation to explain how important education is today’