If Idaho Democrats played political hardball like their Republican colleagues, they’d hit Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, where’s she’s not.
And where she’s not is at home doing her job.
Where you’ll find the three-term legislator and would-be lieutenant governor is stirring up trouble in Boise as co-chairwoman of Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s indoctrination task force. Neither Gov. Brad Little nor the Idaho Legislature authorized its creation. Instead, it’s a closed circle of true believers in the fallacy that Idaho’s public schools and institutions of higher learning are engaged in a nefarious plot to turn the next generation into socialists, communists, Marxists and critical race theory adherents.
Toward that end, Giddings has targeted Boise schools with a public records request so broad that the school district refused unless she’s willing to cover the cost — at what could be $155,000.
Meanwhile, during the McGeachin inquisition’s second meeting last month, Giddings was afforded one of the few opportunities to speak. She used her time to accuse every institution in sight — public libraries, Idaho Public Television, early childhood development programs and K-12 — of engaging in everything from besmirching the good name of Christopher Columbus to getting chummy with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Where you won’t find Giddings is in Grangeville, where the one thing possibly everyone involved in Mountain View School District’s contentious finances should agree upon is how the Legislature has let them down.
For the second time in as many years, patrons have rejected a supplemental levy that spells the difference between the “general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools” Idaho’s constitution promises — and what state lawmakers are willing to provide. The amount comes to about $3.9 million.
Last year, a supplemental levy to bridge that gap went down by a 2-to-1 margin. Earlier this year, a scaled-down $3.1 million supplemental levy lost 60 percent of the vote.
Since then, school board members threw in the towel on seeking only $2.2 million as a last-ditch effort in August.
“This isn’t Mountain View’s funding model; this is Idaho’s funding model,” Superintendent Todd Fiske asserted. “Should we be at the state level, asking our Legislature for more?”
The fact is local taxpayers in four of every five Idaho school districts have volunteered to pay a record-setting $216.6 million to compensate for legislative neglect of their schools.
To escape making more drastic cuts, Mountain View will rely on reserves and the last of its Secure Rural Schools and federal coronavirus relief dollars. But it’s a shell game that relies on a new levy passing in the spring.
It presupposes that patrons who’ve become accustomed to a $300 or $400 property tax windfall will relinquish that amount next year in the name of educating a child they don’t know.
It presumes that teachers now working in the district will bet their careers on another levy passing rather than seek a more secure job next year.
So if McGeachin and Giddings can surround themselves with a group of Idaho Freedom Foundation acolytes to pursue their agenda simply on their own say-so, why can’t the Democrats serving on the House and Senate Education Committees do the same thing?
Sens. Janie Ward Engelking of Boise and David Nelson of Moscow and Reps. John McCrostie of Garden City, Steve Berch of Boise, and Sally Toone of Gooding should declare themselves a fact-finding tribunal and travel to Grangeville.
What better way to showcase the shortcomings of Giddings, McGeachin, the IFF and many if not most of the GOP legislators?
Unlike McGeachin and Giddings, these Democratic lawmakers would be under no pressure to screen testimony. Open the floor to everyone and ask these questions:
l Is a supplemental levy simply unaffordable to Mountain View’s patrons or has the community grown tired of covering the Legislature’s burden?
l Ultimately, what’s on the chopping block if reserves run out? Sports? Extracurricular activities? How many teaching positions will be jettisoned?
l How difficult is it to attract and retain qualified teachers?
l What are students in districts funded by supplemental levies getting that their counterparts in Mountain View are not?
l Is Mountain View an anomaly — or a harbinger of things to come elsewhere?
l Why do these patrons continue to reelect GOP lawmakers who delivered an assault against critical race theory rather than property tax relief?
l Why doesn’t Idaho pay for all-day kindergarten and how would that alleviate Mountain View’s burdens?
l How did the elimination of the equalized maintenance and operations levy under then-Gov. Jim Risch and the GOP-led Legislature in 2006 expand the gulf between Idaho schools that are rich and poor, urban and rural?
l Why are GOP legislators doing the bidding of IFF President Wayne Hoffman, a man who is so diametrically opposed to public education that he once wrote: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today”?
l Last, but not least, where has Giddings been all this time?
Two can play this game. — M.T.