Freeman resigning as State Board director

(UPDATED, 3:35 p.m., with comments from Gov. Brad Little and state superintendent Debbie Critchfield.)

The State Board of Education’s longtime executive director is stepping down — setting the stage for what could be a politically charged hiring process.

Matt Freeman is resigning, effective June 30, after nine years at the helm. He turned in a resignation letter to Gov. Brad Little Monday, and said he’d already notified the board of his plans. But his resignation wasn’t announced until Friday, after a previously scheduled two-day board meeting in Moscow.

“The demands of this leadership position are 24/7,” Freeman said in a news release. “Quite simply, my family and I are ready for a change.”

Freeman has worked for 14 years for the State Board — an agency with broad and growing policymaking authority over K-12 and higher education. The University of Idaho law school graduate joined the State Board after working as a budget analyst for the state’s Legislative Services Office. He has been the State Board’s executive director since June 2015.

In that time, the State Board’s office has assumed an even larger role over education policy. In 2020, the Legislature granted the board jurisdiction over the state’s school IT and data management functions — over the objections of then-state superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who challenged the move in state Supreme Court. In a less contentious move, the state’s school safety and security program was moved under the State Board in 2021.

The State Board office has 74 full-time positions. The office also provides staff support to the State Board, the policymaking body made up of seven gubernatorial appointees and the elected state superintendent.

Spelling it Out Check out our infographic on how traditional public schools are governed, and where the State Board fits in.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Little said Freeman played a key role in several initiatives — from the Idaho Launch postsecondary grant program passed in 2023, to this year’s school facilities law, which will provide $1.5 billion in new spending for building projects and repairs.

“Working together, we were able to get Launch across the finish line, make historic investments in school facilities, significantly increase pay for teachers, better prepare our students through expanded literacy opportunities, and advance innovation in K-12 education as well as higher ed,” he said.

State superintendent Debbie Critchfield said Freeman’s integrity, honesty and work ethic will “never be fully appreciated” by those who haven’t worked with him. “I would hope that he’d look back and have satisfaction for the service he provided to the board and to the state,” she told EdNews Friday.

The board’s president, Linda Clark, praised Freeman’s “tremendous energy and service” to the state and its public education system.

“He has been a tireless leader throughout his tenure as executive director,” Clark said in a board news release. “Quite frankly, Matt will be very difficult to replace, and we as a board wish him the very best.”

The replacement process will take on a new tone.

Little will be able to name a successor to Freeman, but this hire will be subject to Senate confirmation. That confirmation language was part of a “trailer” bill — a followup that tweaked the complicated school facilities law. The trailer bill passed the Legislature unanimously; Little signed it last week.

In his statement, Little said his office is “working diligently” to look for candidates, but he did not discuss how the Senate confirmation requirement will affect the search.

On Friday, Critchfield said she didn’t know what to expect. “I’m as curious as anybody else to see what that will look like.”

In a brief resignation letter to Little, Freeman made no mention of the new appointment process, and instead praised his staff’s emphasis on “student-centric” policy.

“I want you to know that the Office of the State Board of Education has truly exceptional staff,” he wrote. “The office is in a strong financial position and enjoys a very healthy workplace culture.”

Kevin Richert and Ryan Suppe

Kevin Richert and Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business.

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