KTVB debate: Superintendent candidates talk critical race theory, school choice

Candidates for state superintendent Terry Gilbert and Debbie Critchfield debated once again Tuesday night in a forum hosted by KTVB.

Most questions received similar answers to Monday’s Idaho Public Television debate, with a few exceptions.

Gilbert, a Democrat, threw several jabs at his Republican opponent for her stance on vouchers and school choice. Critchfield said she did not support vouchers specifically, but supported school choice throughout the state.

When Gilbert pushed again, claiming Critchfield’s support of the Republican Party platform indicated her support of vouchers, she said she did not support the full education platform.

“You could go and find any rank-and-file Republican that wholesale…may not agree with 100 percent of that (platform),” Critchfield responded. “I have clearly stated that I’m not looking to ‘voucherize’ our system.”

A KTVB viewer sent in a question for the candidates about critical race theory (CRT), a college-level legal framework that some claim is being taught in schools to indoctrinate students with liberal ideals.

Critchfield said she opposed CRT as she defines it, but has not seen it taught consistently or systematically around the state.

Gilbert spoke to his own education as a former teacher, and said he was never taught to teach CRT. The democrat said the conversation on CRT has been used to attack public schools.

“If you are the head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and you say public schools are grotesque, then I disagree with you,” he said. “You are using propaganda and the art of the Big Lie, and I am opposed to that.”

Critchfield said the Legislature’s constitutional obligation “to establish and maintain a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools” is a measure to judge the discrepancies in education across the state. She referred to rural programming and the use of bonds and levies to fund aspects of education.

“I have seen as I’ve traveled the state over the last nearly 18 months, very stark differences depending on where your zip code is,” she said. “That is not meeting that constitutional mandate.”

Gilbert said the state Constitution should guide the state to a high achievement. He also doubled down on his advocacy for public education in his response.

“I am a staunch defender of public education,” Gilbert said. “It is the driving force of our state and I do not want to turn my back on it.”

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber, a former reporter with Ed News that focused on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley.

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