Otter stands by his claims in transgender student dispute

Gov. Butch Otter is standing by his numbers, in an ongoing dispute over transgender student policies.

Butch Otter
Gov. Butch Otter

Otter maintains that the Obama administration’s transgender student guidelines jeopardize about a third of the state’s education funding.

The claim was made in a legal brief filed by the state Friday — and Idaho Education News first reported about the claim Monday. Writing on Otter’s behalf, staff attorney Cally Younger said Idaho could lose 34.4 percent of its education funding, if it fails to comply with the transgender student guidelines.

That 34.4 percent figure doesn’t square with the state’s K-12 budget; in 2016-17, federal dollars will account for only 13.7 percent of Idaho’s public schools budget.

On Wednesday, Otter spokesman Jon Hanian sent Idaho Education News an email clarifying the state’s claim. He says the transgender student issue jeopardizes all federal funding for education — such as the $400 million in contracts and grants received by the state’s universities, and $4.7 million for career-technical education programs.

In quantifying the potential fiscal impact to Idaho, we looked at federal funding to all of public education in Idaho, kindergarten through higher education,” Hanian wrote. “We stand by our estimate.”

Younger’s 34-page brief does not refer to university contracts and grants or career-technical programs. It refers only to one federally funded program: the $161.1 million Idaho receives for K-12 student aid programs. That does not represent all of the federal funding Idaho receives for K-12.

Federal education funding has become a point of contention since May 13, when the Obama administration weighed into the debate over how public schools should accommodate transgender students. The White House called its policies “guidance.” Critics call the policies coercive — and say the feds will pull education funding if states do not comply.

Otter maintains that this applies to all schools, not just the K-12 system. And on Wednesday, Hanian pointed to a footnote in the White House’s memo outlining the transgender guidelines. The footnote refers to schools as “recipients of federal financial assistance at all educational levels, including school districts, colleges, and universities.”

Several states have filed a lawsuit in a Texas federal court, seeking an injunction against the transgender policies.

Idaho is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The document Idaho filed was an “amicus” brief, or “friend of the court” brief, voicing support for the injunction.