Legislative leaders Thursday promoted Rep. Julie VanOrden to head the House Education Committee.
The 2017 legislative session does not convene until Jan. 9, but lawmakers were in Boise this week for their organizational session. Members of House and Senate leadership appointed a slate of committee chairpersons, and filled out spots on these committees.
VanOrden said her goal for 2017 is to finish the job on several education initiatives — such as Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force recommendations, including the career ladder, a five-year plan to boost teacher salaries.
“And every year we have student enrollment growth that we need to fund,” VanOrden said Thursday. “I want to make sure we have funding for those things.”
VanOrden, R-Pingree, envisions working closely on education budget matters with longtime colleague Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls. Both lawmakers have school board experience and serve on the Legislature’s interim committee studying Idaho’s school funding formula. VanOrden views their working relationship as advantageous when it comes to the intersection of policy and budget issues.
“In fact, we talk on a regular basis,” VanOrden said.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said that he has “complete confidence” in VanOrden.
“Her preparation started back when she was on the school board at Snake River — I was impressed back then and certainly nothing has changed,” Bedke said. “That’s a difficult committee. There’s always strong opinions mixed with emotion, and I think she is very qualified to lead that committee. It’s going to take some of her best efforts, at times, to keep her patience and work though the issues, but she’s shown an aptitude and a history of that.”
After outgoing House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt decided not to seek re-election this year, VanOrden immediately became a sort of heir apparent.
VanOrden previously served as the House Education’s vice chairwoman, and told Idaho Education News on the final day of the 2016 session that she was interested in taking over the top spot.
In August, a lobbyist at the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ annual conference offered a public endorsement of VanOrden.
On Thursday, it became official.
Rep. Patrick McDonald, a Boise Republican who has served with VanOrden on House Education, offered his strong support.
“She’s the right pick for the position, without a doubt,” McDonald said Thursday. “She’s incredibly knowledgeable, she’s got a wide range of experience and she was mentored by Chairman DeMordaunt.
“She is one of the best in the state, in my opinion.”
On Thursday, McDonald was promoted to House Education’s vice chairman’s spot.
VanOrden has served in the Legislature since 2013. Before that, she served as a Snake River School District trustee for about 10 years. She served six years as school board chairwoman — so leading a committee charged with setting education policy is nothing new to her.
Throughout her career, VanOrden has also been active with the PTA at both the state and national level.
News of the promotion came as “a pleasant surprise” to VanOrden, who said she is prepared to lead and comfortable with her assignment.
“Using that as my background, it’s been kind of a natural fit to be on the education committee,” VanOrden said.
Once the Legislature convenes, VanOrden expects Idaho legislators to take up President-elect Donald Trump’s push for school choice.
“I think there will be a lot of legislators wanting to address school choice issues,” VanOrden said. “It will be interesting to see what that looks like.”
Committee lineup changes
VanOrden’s promotion was the big news of the day in education circles, lawmakers also tweaked the House and Senate education committees and the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
Although Democrats lost three seats in the House heading into 2017, new House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said his party fought to retain their seats on House Education, even at the expense of seats on the State Affairs and Revenue and Taxation committees.
“We really want to make sure the career ladder and other aspects of our current education reform package continue to move forward,” Erpelding said. “There have been enough changes on that committee that we believe our votes will be important in making sure that happens.”
In the end, Democrats retained their three seats on House Education; Republicans hold 12 seats. Republicans hold a 7-2 majority on the Senate Education Committee.
New members appointed to JFAC:
- Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise.
- Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.
- Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland.
- Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.
- Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa.
- Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville.
- Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello.
- Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot.
- Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay.
- Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.
New Senate Education Committee members:
- Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon.
- Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise.
New House Education Committee members:
- Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls.
- Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene.
- Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle.
- Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley.
- Rep. Scott Syme, R-Wilder.
- Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City.
- Sally Toone, D-Gooding.