Longtime deputy controller to take helm at State Board

A longtime deputy in the state controller’s office will head the State Board of Education.

Joshua Whitworth

Gov. Brad Little on Tuesday named Joshua Whitworth as the board’s next executive director, effective July 1. But in a new and potentially politicized process, the state Senate will vote on Whitworth’s hire next winter.

Whitworth has worked as Controller Brandon Woolf’s chief deputy since 2017, and has been a deputy in the office for nearly 11 years.

“Josh Whitworth has a proven track record of working effectively across broad stakeholder groups to implement important initiatives that improve the lives of the people we serve. Education has been my top priority since day one, I have great confidence Josh will advance our goal to create the best educational opportunities for Idahoans from childhood through adulthood,” Little said in a news release Tuesday.

A Central Idaho native with degrees from Idaho State University and Boise State University, Whitworth brings a wide-ranging resume to the State Board.

For 25 years, he has managed the Elkhorn Ranch, a Mackay operation that has been in his family for four generations. He worked as a recruitment specialist at Idaho State from 2010 to 2012. After that, he worked for 13 months as the Idaho Republican Party’s executive director, leaving for the controller’s office in 2013.

“The State Board of Education plays a critical role in strengthening our workforce and building leaders through our state’s education systems,” Whitworth said in a news release. “I am eager to engage with board members, university presidents, employers, and a variety of education supporters in my new role.”

Whitworth will succeed Matt Freeman, a 14-year State Board veteran who served nine years in the executive director’s post. Freeman’s last day on the job is June 30.

“The demands of this leadership position are 24/7,” Freeman said in an April 19 news release, announcing his resignation. “Quite simply, my family and I are ready for a change.”

The executive director’s position is one of the most highly visible — and highly compensated — posts in Idaho education. Whitworth’s new salary has not yet been set, said Emily Callihan, a spokeswoman for Little; Freeman made $178,505 a year in the post.

The executive director doesn’t set K-12 and higher education policy — that instead falls to the eight-member State Board, composed of seven gubernatorial appointees and Idaho’s elected state schools superintendent. But the executive director plays a key role in executing board policies, and is often the public face of the State Board during the legislative session.

And now, the executive director’s post takes on new political overtones.

The 2024 Legislature gave the Senate the authority to confirm the executive director,  inserting this language into a scattershot $1.5 billion school facilities compromise. Little endorsed the plan, including the language on the State Board post.

This means Whitworth’s appointment will come up before the Senate sometime during the 2025 session, which begins in January.

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]

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