Talk about gaslighting.
How else would you describe Republican legislators who transformed the Gem State into a child care desert before turning on working families and their kids?
Before killing a $6 million federal grant to promote quality early childhood learning by a 36-to-34 vote, they managed to drown one of the partners involved — the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children — in a wave of innuendo. But what else could these culture warriors do?
Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, couldn’t defend Idaho’s sorry record as one of six states that doesn’t lift a finger to help young children secure quality care. Not only has it refused to spend its own resources, but the state has frequently slapped away offers of assistance from the federal government. Even Idaho’s perennial counterparts in the national bottom of the basement — notably Mississippi and Alabama — are doing much more.
So Giddings deflected: “Are you aware if this nonprofit has provided any support or if they would encourage or support the teaching of the Pledge of Allegiance?”
Certainly, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, did not want to expose the fact that more than half of Idaho’s children arrive for the opening day of kindergarten already behind. In the fall of 2019 — the last school year before the COVID-19 pandemic closed many classrooms — only 42.3 percent of Idaho’s youngest students had enough familiarity with letters, numbers, and sounds to learn how to read. Teachers are left to juggle, helping one group catch up while engaging students who have had the benefit of adequate preparation — all within 2½ hours.
So Scott conjured up some sinister plot to indoctrinate “our children at a younger level here. ... There’s no escaping it when the book’s already written, the curriculum is already written, there’s social justice in it.”
And Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, preferred not to delve into the fact that in half of Idaho’s communities, working parents confront what the Bipartisan Policy Center has documented as a child care desert — the need for services far outstrips the supply. That affects more than 20,000 Idaho children — or 28 percent statewide.
So Shepherd stumbled into some rambling anti-working mother tirade for which he later apologized: “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.”
None of that is true, of course. But it had the effect of obscuring the Republican-led Legislature’s sorry record.
The fact is a few years ago, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children stepped in to fill the void many of the state’s political leaders created. First with private money and then with a $3 million federal grant, it managed to launch 15 collaborative child care programs, including one at Kendrick-Juliaetta — where 86 percent of adults had reported a lack of child care providers.
The latest federal program would have delivered $6 million a year for the next three years — enabling the State Board of Education and AEYC to ramp up another five collaboratives, including plans for Idaho Falls and Emmett — along with continuing outreach efforts such as children’s library programs, kindergarten readiness, early literacy classes for parents, help for home-schoolers, webinars for parents and activity kits for children, many of whom were unable to attend in-person classes.
In opposing this grant, many House members were voting against their own communities.
Scott did not help a Sandpoint collaborative in her district.
Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene and Tony Wisniewski, R-Coeur d’Alene, voted to block a grant that aided a Coeur d’Alene collaborative.
Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, represents the Kendrick-Juliaetta collaborative, but that did not prevent him from casting a no vote.
And scroll down the list of Idaho’s child care deserts:
l Legislative District 35 — Demand outstrips supply by 71.8 percent. Nevertheless, Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, voted no.
l Legislative District 34 — Short by 60.1 percent. Reps. Jon Weber and Ron Nate, both R-Rexburg, voted no.
l Legislative District 32 — Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, was not deterred by the 63 percent gap in his district. He voted no.
l Legislative District 31 — Its day care resources fall about 46.6 percent short. Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, still opposed it.
l Legislative District 30 — Short by 32.2 percent. Rep. Gary L. Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, voted no.
l Legislative District 22 — Short by 34.9 percent. Both Reps. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and Jason Monks, R-Meridian, voted against it.
l Legislative District 11 — The child care gap comes in at 30.8 percent, but Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, voted no.
Had just one of them voted to help the working families and young children back home, the bill would have passed.
But that would have required at least one of them to put people ahead of politics. — M.T.