Idaho House takes budget bills hostage

Most years bills that make it out of the Joint Finance Committee have a quick ride through the Idaho House and Senate. Most legislators seem grateful that colleagues have done the work of shuffling funds from program to program until the pieces fit and the budget is balanced. 

Yet, this year, with a $60 million surplus and hordes of COVID relief money, the House has voted down funding for the Attorney General’s office, catastrophic health care, aid to child care providers, programs for preschoolers, Idaho’s institutes for higher education, and pay for all K-12 public school teachers.   

Just what message are those voting in the majority sending?

Okay, they’re angry with the Attorney General for saying that bills they want are unconstitutional. They don’t want to honor our agreements with patients and medical facilities because COVID has driven the costs above the budgeted amount. And they turned down $33.7 million in Federal funds for childcare providers because it was too much.

So one might conclude they’re vengeful and frugal.

But the attack on education is in a whole different dimension. All three appropriation bills–programs for preschoolers, funding for public colleges and universities, and pay for teachers–were killed because the majority of Republican representatives have accepted the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s claims that schools are bombarding our children with theories about race and social justice.

They apparently imagine that teachers are sneaking social justice messages into lessons on spelling, fractions, prepositions, and the scientific method. They suspect inservice training is simply a means to see that even PE and music teachers know how to include critical race theory in daily activities.

Rep. Heather Scott has implied that the House is doing teachers a favor by not funding their salaries. “We need to protect our teachers from being forced to teach this garbage of social justice including critical race theory…” 

We’ve been told that many students and parents have complained.  But we’ve no details of any incidents. Were any events in classes other than social studies? What did students question?  And how were their speech squelched?  

We have little idea what teaching crosses the line. Can we teach Huckleberry Finn even though Twain is attacking white supremacy?  Can we let students read that 4,000 Cherokee died during the forced march on the Trail of Tears–a number ten times the number of Oregon Trail travelers that died in Indian attacks?   

Rep.Priscilla Giddings was clear in stating, “Redistribution of resources is not equality, it’s socialism…” But does that mean that economics teachers can’t teach students about income taxes and Medicaid and the Earned Income Credit without mentioning their evils? 

Apparently, Rep. Barbara Ehardt is willing to let the courts decide when coleges are concerned. Her bill, HB 364, would allow students who felt they were not allowed to express their views on campus, in class or out, to sue the institution. A judgment in the students’ favor would garner them a payday of $5,000 or more plus court costs. 

The House passed Ehardt’s bill within days on a nearly a party-line split. Only one Republican, Rep. Dustin Manwaring of Pocatello, dissented. 

We may soon have students planninging to earn a chunk of their tuition by arguing for white supremacy in classrooms with Indian, Mexican, Asian and Hispanic students–and instructors knowing they’ll end up in court if they stop them.  

The House may not pass those six important budget bills unless the Senate goes along with this bill. As taxpayers, we’ll continue paying $35,000 a day until the legislature does fund constitutionally required programs.