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Idaho Superintendent of Public Education candidates debate funding

Candidates Branden Durst, Debbie Critchfield and Sherri Ybarra
Aaron Kunz | Idaho Public Television
Candidates Branden Durst, Debbie Critchfield and Sherri Ybarra

Three Republicans are running to be Idaho’s Superintendent of public Instruction. In an Idaho Public Television debate this week Incumbent Sherri Ybarra faced two challengers, former state legislator Branden Durst and Debbie Critchfield, former president of the Idaho Board of Education.

Ybarra touted Idaho’s increased education funding authorized by the State Legislature, saying outcomes for students have improved under her leadership.

“I don't think anyone believes for one split that second that our educational system is broken,” Ybarrra said, “Now, do we have some work to do, absolutely we do. And we found out during the pandemic that some of our learners that already have those gaps still need some work, that's our English language learners, our students with disabilities and that's why I'm seeking another term because I know the work to be accomplished.”

Durst said electing people with education, not political experience, has led to inappropriate content in schools, such as discussions of race or sexuality.

“We have just continued to elect folks with lots of educational experience, or people that were former school board members, but that hasn't worked,” Durst said. “We have never elected a state superintendent that's got legislative experience, and I think that's a mistake. We do that for our governor's office, for our attorney general, for our Congressmen and our senators, but we've never once done that for a state superintendent and I think it's time we try a different approach.”

He also argues both his opponents are against parents’ rights, and believes parents should be able public-school funds to send their children to private school. Ybarra argues proposals like that siphon away money from public schools, which are required to be fully funded under Idaho’s constitution.

Critchfield says statistics show outcomes have not improved for all students under Ybarra’s leadership, and argues she’s an alternative with classroom experience. She says she’s also committed to supporting school staff.

She’s critical of Durst, saying he’s shown, at least through one conflict in the legislature over one of his bills not making it out of committee, that he can’t work with others.

“I'm running for this office because our teachers deserve more, I'm running because our parents expect more and our kids need more,” Critchfield said.

The full debate is available on Idaho Public Television’s YouTube page and will air on KPBX on May 3 at noon.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.