EMMETT — Gov. Brad Little’s neighbors asked him about early childhood education, population growth and Medicaid expansion during a daylong community meeting Tuesday in his hometown.
Continuing a tradition popularized by his predecessors, Little named Emmett Idaho’s “Capital for a Day” and brought along members of his cabinet and state government to field questions and listen to concerns from Gem County residents.
Following introductory speeches from Little and First Lady Teresa Little, local Head Start teacher Phylis Vernon opened the proceedings by asking Little about early childhood education. She thanked the first-year governor for “being on the right track” with his plan to double state funding for K-3 literacy. Then she asked what Little plans to do beyond the steps he took during the 2019 legislative session.
“What I’d like to know is what your broader plan is for addressing gaps in early education?” Vernon asked.
Little said local schools may use their share of the literacy money to start all-day kindergarten programs, offer summer reading programs, hire new staffers to decrease class sizes and more.
“What we’re trying to do is make a smorgasbord of options available to the people who have their sleeves rolled up in the field trying to address early literacy,” Little said.
During the lunch break, Vernon said she still has more questions for Little, and would have liked to hear more about holistic programs for even younger children to help them prepare for kindergarten.
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“The focus shouldn’t totally be on literacy it should also be on social-emotional development of children,” Vernon said.
State Librarian Ann Joslin asked Little to commit to providing resources to stock local elementary school libraries.
“Clearly, elementary libraries do not have sufficient access to books for kids to check out to bring home so they can practice reading,” Joslin said.
Little replied that he was “all in” for supporting education as his No. 1 priority. He also said he was cautious about pursuing a blanket, statewide proposal and urged patrons to speak to their local school board members, “where the rubber meets the road.”
Later, in one of the day’s more light-hearted moments, Joslin surprised Little by presenting him with a library book, “Adventures in English Literature,” that Little checked out from Emmett High School in 1970 or 1971. Joslin humorously noted that the book was in “bad condition” when Little received it, but it was flagged as being in very bad condition by the time the next borrower checked it out.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra attended Tuesday’s meeting, and used it as a chance to highlight legislative action on education. Ybarra promoted Idaho as a local control state, told residents she was elected to push back strongly against the U.S. Department of Education “getting back up in our business” and highlighted achievement at Emmett High School.
Fresh off a 95-day legislative session, Little picked Emmett as his first Capital for a Day site. Little knew several citizens in the audience. He was able to call on more than half of the people who asked questions by their first names.
About 50 citizens attended the event, including some of Little’s children. Also on hand were more than 25 state agency officials, a couple Gem County commissioners, Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, and Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. Boyle and Moon serve on the House Education Committee, while Thayn is vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Little said he plans to use Capital for a Day events to visit and conduct business in all corners of Idaho.