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Idaho House Votes Down Teacher Funding Over Concern About "Critical Race Theory"

Idaho Public TV screenshot

The Idaho House on Tuesday refused to approve a budget to pay school teachers because of a continuing dispute about the teaching of social justice issues.After more than an hour of debate, the House tied 34-34 on the question of whether Idaho should spend one-point-one billion dollars to pay teachers next year. It’s a necessary step before the legislature adjourns.

Rep. Matt Bundy [R-Mountain Home] asked his colleagues to consider how hard teachers have worked to juggle in-person and online instruction during the pandemic.

“That’s who you’re voting for right now. We’re voting for the career ladder to pay those people the salaries that we have set in code, we’ve set an ordinance, that they need," Bundy said.

And in most years, that budget has been approved without much fanfare. This year, though, one theme that has arisen again and again was introduced into Monday’s debate. It’s articulated here by Rep. Julianne Young [R-Blackfoot].

“I have talked to parents in my district, my legislative district, I won’t say which school district, who tell me that their high school students are getting critical race theory from their government teacher," she said.

Young and others say the concept of “critical race theory” divides people along racial lines and doesn’t promote unity among people of different ethnic backgrounds. They say it’s not something that should be taught in Idaho’s schools. Several legislators, including Rep. Priscilla Giddings [R-White Bird], urged their colleagues to vote down the budget that funds teacher salaries until they can add a policy statement.

“We have to include intent language, specifically saying critical theory will not be advocated for by our teachers or upon our teachers. That is why we need to say no this first time," Giddings said.

“My head is absolutely spinning right now, listening to this debate," said Rep. John McCrostie [D-Boise], a school teacher by vocation. As he debated, he held a small laptop in the crook of his arm. He says this school year has been one of the two most difficult in his 18-year teaching career. The other, he says, was his first year when he was just feeling his way as a teacher.

“This year, when I know absolutely what I’m doing and I have to transform it all and I need to put it in this little box, I don’t have time to teach critical race theory. Are you kidding me?” he said.

McCrostie and others say the budget is not a place for policy statements about what teachers should and should not teach. They say those should be made in separate legislation.

The bill now will head back to a committee since the budget must be passed before the legislature can adjourn.

The complaints about critical race theory have also played a role in debates about budgets for Idaho’s colleges and universities.