Education committee chair defends record amid right-wing primary challenge

In her bid for a third term, Rep. Julie Yamamoto faces a challenger from the right, who’s highlighting her votes on contentious issues, including libraries and guns on school campuses.

Yamamoto hopes Caldwell GOP primary voters see that she has represented conservative values, like local control, amid attacks from frequent candidate Kent Marmon and his supporters. Marmon is spotlighting what he calls Yamamoto’s “liberal” voting record — “votes that if the people of District 11 knew anything about would change their minds about supporting her because they simply ‘like’ her as a person,” Marmon recently said on Facebook

The contest also centers on school choice. Marmon supports directing public funds to private education, a divisive movement among Republicans that Yamamoto has long resisted. Third-party groups in favor of school choice have targeted Yamamoto’s campaign. 

“I’m hoping that the average Idahoan is looking at what’s happening and saying … ‘We want people that are reasonable, that are willing to think things through, compromise where they need to, deliver a balanced budget and stop with all the social, hot-button issues,'” Yamamoto told Idaho Education News.

Yamamoto’s education policy priorities

Yamamoto is a former public school teacher and administrator, who recently completed her second term in the House and first as chair of the House Education Committee. 

For more than three decades, Yamamoto worked in Canyon County schools, as a language arts teacher and later principal of Caldwell High School. House Speaker Mike Moyle named Yamamoto committee chair ahead of last year’s legislative session. 

If re-elected, Yamamoto said she would continue to push to update the state’s archaic school funding formula alongside state superintendent Debbie Critchfield. The formula should include weights, Yamamoto said, accounting for the costs of serving students with special needs. 

“It costs more to educate some students than others,” she said. “Very simple.”

Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell

And Yamamoto said she’ll continue to advocate for local autonomy on hot-button issues. She defended her votes on teacher concealed carry and library bills, both of which usurped local control, she said. 

Idaho law allows school districts to grant, or deny, teachers the right to carry guns on campus. But two unsuccessful bills this session — one in the House and the other in the Senate — would have given teachers with concealed carry permits the right to carry, regardless of local policy. Yamamoto opposed the House bill, splitting off from the majority of her GOP colleagues

“We already have a law on the books that does exactly what it needs to do,” she said. “It puts the control in the hands of the administration and the school board, which is elected by whom? The parents and the patrons, those closest to the issue.”

House Bill 710 — which made libraries liable for statutory fines and lawsuits stemming from book challenges — smacked of “nanny state” policymaking, Yamamoto said. And she shot back at critics who have questioned her conservative credentials for opposing it. 

“I’ll tell you who’s not conservative enough,” she said, “the people who say that they trust parents and then don’t, and the people who say that they want local control and then want control from the state.” 

Yamamoto’s tenure as committee chair has been marked by other contentious policy battles. Most notably, House Education has served as a blockade for school choice, an umbrella term for policies directing public dollars to private education. And Yamamoto has shouldered much of the blame from school choice advocates.

She has consistently resisted subsidizing private education — through vouchers, education savings accounts (ESA) or tax credits — and it remains a “non-starter,” she said. “We see in every state what has happened to the budget when that has been their solution.”

Yamamoto stresses, however, that she doesn’t tell her committee members how to vote. “Their minds are their own, and they have districts that they have to represent, plus their own conscience and their own experience.”

Committee chairs can block hearings on bills — putting them in a drawer, in Statehouse parlance — but Yamamoto has allowed school choice bills to be heard in the past. In 2023, her committee rejected a handful of them.

This year, Moyle, a Republican from Star and school choice proponent, sent a bill creating a tuition tax credit and grant program to the Revenue and Taxation Committee instead of House Education. The tax panel narrowly rejected the legislation, but Moyle has promised the school choice issue isn’t going away. 

The speaker has the authority to remove committee chairs, and Yamamoto said some colleagues suggested that this should be her fate. But Moyle “stuck with me” and said “he was in my corner.” 

“Whether or not he would be willing to repeat that, I don’t know,” she said. 

Marmon’s education policy priorities

Marmon is a businessman who formerly served as a Caldwell School District trustee and Caldwell City Council member. He has run for the Legislature four times — in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2022 — losing each primary election bid. He faced Rep. Chris Allgood of Caldwell in the most recent primary. 

Marmon did not respond to EdNews’ interview request for this story, but he responded to a voter guide questionnaire. In the voter guide, and elsewhere, Marmon said he’s a school choice advocate. 

When asked about his top education priorities, Marmon said the Idaho Constitution directs the Legislature to fund “free education for all the children of Idaho.” More precisely, the Constitution refers to “public, free common schools,” but Marmon on his website interprets the provision to mean that free education is “guaranteed” for each child, as he makes a case for school choice.

Kent Marmon

“Those funds should follow the students to where Idaho’s parents feel will provide their student with the very best educational opportunities,” Marmon says on his website. Public schools don’t “meet the needs of all our children and parents,” he said in the voter guide, and “parents should be given the option of choosing what is right for their children.”

Marmon also said Idaho’s school funding is distributed on a “per-student” basis, so “it makes sense that some of that funding should follow the student to wherever it is they go to receive their education.” 

In fact, Idaho’s public school funding formula is a resource-based model. That means funding is distributed based on the cost of resources, like staff and curriculum, needed to operate a classroom. Critchfield this year proposed a bill to nudge the formula toward a per-student model, but it was unsuccessful

On Facebook, Marmon said he supports giving teachers with concealed-carry permits the right to have guns on campus. It “has the potential to save countless lives” in the minutes before police respond to a school shooting, he said. And he supports HB 710, a law that “simply requires librarians to move materials to an area of the library inaccessible to children.” 

Marmon also has advocated for repealing local governments’ authority to collect property taxes — which school districts levy to fund facilities maintenance and construction and to supplement employee salaries. 

And he has slammed Idaho Launch, Gov. Brad Little’s workforce training scholarship initiative. Marmon called it a “corporate welfare” program that “should never have been implemented” while the state “can’t seem to take care of the things we need to be funding.” 

“It’s time to get back to the basics and eliminate wasteful spending and spending on programs that are not within the proper role of government,” he said. 

Yamamoto supports the program, calling it “an investment in Idaho’s present and future” that addresses a persistent “workforce shortage across many in-demand careers.”

School choice group targets Yamamoto campaign

Electioneering has flooded the Yamamoto-Marmon race. 

Make Liberty Win, a political action committee, financed at least four fliers calling Yamamoto “Idaho’s most liberal legislator,” who voted for “porn in school libraries being shown to minors” and “millions of funding” for critical race theory. 

KTVB reported this week that the PAC is tied to Young Americans for Liberty, a pro-school choice lobbying group based in Texas. The group was the top spender among Idaho lobbyists this legislative session, dishing out nearly $70,000 lobbying for the private school tuition tax credit and grant bill, among others. 

“It’s garbage,” Yamamoto said of the fliers. “Nobody wants pornographic materials or obscene material in the hands of children.” And she pointed to her support for a 2021 bill that “specifically prohibits” teaching CRT in public schools. 

Marmon’s campaign is also backed by the hardline conservative Idaho Freedom Action, the political arm of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which has financed attack ads against Yamamoto

Ron Crane, former state treasurer and IFF board member, endorsed Marmon, calling him “a proven conservative Republican.” 

Critchfield, a Republican, endorsed Yamamoto. “Her commitment to education shines through her leadership and care for Idaho families,” the superintendent said.

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

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