This debate’s battle: Does JFAC support Ybarra?

(UPDATED, 2 p.m. Wednesday, with details from campaign finance reports, Ybarra’s campaign website and a Wednesday “no response” from Ybarra.)

The candidates for state superintendent found another hot topic besides voting records and plagiarism to spar over.

Does the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee support Sherri Ybarra?

Ybarra, a Republican from Mountain Home, and Jana Jones, a Democrat from Idaho Falls, met for at least their fifth public debate Tuesday night, this one hosted by Idaho Public Television.

They have clashed in previous debates over the education budget, experience, Ybarra’s voting record and accusations of plagiarism.

This time, the controversy was about the powerful 20-member legislative committee that sets the state’s budget every year.

When asked a question about education funding, Ybarra said she has the support of most lawmakers and JFAC.

Jana Jones said that is impossible because Ybarra could not have talked to all the members and “to say she has the support of JFAC, it’s inappropriate.”

Ybarra countered by saying: “I’m sorry that my opponent is misinformed and she’s been gone so long that she doesn’t know who JFAC is, but they are listed on my website and they most certainly do support me.”

Said Jones: “I do know what JFAC is and not every member of JFAC is on your website.”

Ybarra’s website was down much of Tuesday, but the site was back up Wednesday morning. Her list of legislative endorsements includes two JFAC members: Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the committee; and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, a committee vice chair. A third JFAC member, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, contributed to Ybarra’s campaign during the latest reporting period. JFAC co-chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told Idaho Education News that he endorses Ybarra but he was not listed as a supporter on her website.

Idaho Education News tried to reach Ybarra on Wednesday morning for more details but she did not respond by 2 p.m. Her spokeswoman Melinda Nothern said in an email “supporters names are on the website.”

JFAC is made up of 20 legislators: 16 Republicans and four Democrats.

This isn’t the first time Ybarra’s declaration of support has been questioned. She wrongly identified GOP primary opponent Randy Jensen as a supporter on her website and later took his name down when he told Idaho Education News that he was not supporting either candidate.

Expect more about who does or doesn’t support these candidates during these last two weeks before the Nov. 4 general election.

The candidates took more shots at each other Tuesday night than in previous debates.

Jones took the first swing in her opening statement saying,  “we can’t have another four years with someone who is well-intended but ill-prepared.”

They started another back and forth when Jones said the “last eight years, the focus has been lost,” under Superintendent Tom Luna.

Ybarra said: “I disagree we need to start over. We need to move forward.”

Jones countered with: “No one is having a conversation about going back. The eight years has not progressed as it should.”

The three journalists on the panel — Bill Roberts of the Idaho Statesman, Emilie Ritter Saunders of Boise State Public Radio and Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News — pushed the candidates to be specific with their answers.

They were successful at getting Jones to list three indicators she would use to measure schools: student growth, high-quality teachers and breadth of curriculum that keeps all kids engaged.

Ybarra wasn’t as specific. She said she’d leave the task to each individual school district and recommended using “multiple measures over multiple times” to show a “motion picture of growth instead of a snapshot in time.”

But it was questions about the education budget that became the most revealing at this debate.

Neither was specific about line items they would keep or discard and both said they’d recommend “adequate” funding or resources to meet the needs of teachers and students.

“I will shake every tree and turn over every rock and make sure dollars are stretched to the maximum before I turn to taxpayers and ask for more money,” Ybarra said. “It is better to be low and steady than erratic and all over the map.”

In her closing statement, Ybarra said she will be a conservative leader and she accused Jones of having a “tax-and-spend mentality.”

Jones, who served as chief deputy state superintendent, said she understands the budget and said “we don’t have time to wait a year for someone to study and figure out where things are going.”

Click here to watch the debate.

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