Idaho Senate Approves Early Education Grant, Despite Social Justice Concerns

Apr 12, 2021

Boise Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking makes the case for a $6 million early learning grant during Senate debate on Monday.
Credit Idaho Public TV screenshot

The Washington and Idaho legislatures are passing a flurry of bills as they race toward their respective adjournments.

In Boise on Monday, the Senate approved, by one vote, legislation that would allow the state to accept a $6 million federal early learning grant that has been dogged by arguments over the underlying intent.

Supporters, such as Sen. Carl Crabtree [R-Grangeville], say it would provide resources needed to help local early education and child care programs. He says big corporations helped to write the grant proposal that was accepted by the Trump administration.

“This is meat-and-potatoes, business-in-Idaho, Trump administration stuff," he said.

But the meat-and-potatoes part is not what the opponents see. Some are suspicious about what they view as the underlying, social justice agenda of the non-profit agency that would administer the grant, says Sen. Christy Zito [R-Hammett].

“The Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children is using a $6 million federal grant to move the idea that we are born with an inherent bias simply because of the color of our skin. This is not supposition. It is clearly outlined on their website, some of which was removed, when a vote on a similar bill was made," she said.

That similar bill was defeated by two votes recently by the state House. It has been adjusted and brought back for reconsideration. Its Senate sponsor, Boise Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking, refuted Zito’s charge.

“I can assure you absolutely no money will be used to teach social justice or human sexuality. This bill is about teaching reading and math to our young children and making sure that they’re ready for kindergarten," Ward-Engelking said.

After the 18-17 vote, the bill now heads back to the House.