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Turning point

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Not so many years ago, House Bill 226 probably would have passed with a unanimous vote and likely no contrary debate at all in the Idaho House.

The reason – and the reason comes down mostly to just one – it failed, can be pinpointed. The debate on the main floor vote, lasting roughly an hour, is well worth watching, and you can see it for yourself.

The bill was floor sponsored by Representative Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene. (In fact all of the main floor debate featured only Republicans.) The bill involved renewal of about $6 million in pass-through funding, a continuation of a program the state has participated in (without controversy), in the form of a federal grant – from the outgoing Trump Administration – with favorable comments from Idaho’s two Republican senators. The money would be under control of the state Board of Education.

The $6 million would go to local organizations, many of them in Idaho’s smaller and rural communities, to “provide education resources for children ages birth through five – in multiple formats – and support locally-controlled, high-quality, and family-focused programs and educators that support the optimal growth and development of young children.” The local programs would be designed and run by local committees made up of local people. An in-state non-profit organization called Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children would, under the state board’s oversight, distribute the money and provide assistance to the locals. The program had plenty of support from parents and educators around the state, and a number of state representatives had been personally involved and vouched for it.

Amador delivered a clear, airtight case for the bill.

But its chances of passage fell apart as soon as he finished his debate and Representative Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, stood up.

She had been doing some “digging,” she said, and found the Idaho nonprofit was linked to a national organization, on whose website she found documents with some worrying language. “I don’t understand a lot of what is going on in our education system,” she said, but opined: “It is a world wide battle, it is so imperative that we fight for the hearts and minds of our little ones.”

Specifically, even watching the debate online, you could tell the atmosphere in the House changed when Giddings said she had spotted the phrase “social justice curriculum” and “critical race theory” and references to racial and gender equity. “I do not believe you are privileged based on your gender or your race,” she said – in an efficient but sharp turn into culture war – and adding, “So what is social justice and why are we teaching it to our children?”

“Please let’s not indoctrinate our kids,” she said. The state and local control over the structure and content in the actual Idaho program were all but forgotten the minute she waved the red flag words.

The red meat catchphrases – those with some juice this year, which will be different from those magic incantations next year – opened the door for the negative debate following.

Representative Ron Nate: “Can you see the forces lined up against Idaho choosing education for itself and for its preschoolers? Can you see the forces lined up against families and against communities? We think federal money is free. But it’s not. It comes with controls. … the control is absolute, and the cost of freedoms lost is unaffordable. Say no to social justice being taught in Idaho preschools.”

Representative Barbara Ehardt spoke about a conference in New Orleans on early childhood education she attended, and said she perceived that motherhood was being denigrated there: “I don’t think for the most part these women and I shared very much in common, anyway I’m going to vote ‘no’.”

Representative Charlie Shepherd: “Any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let somebody else raise their child – I just don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going. I realize this bill is trying to help with early childhood care but are we really hurting the family unit in the process?” (After public uproar, he tried walking some of this back the next day.)

The bill failed 34-36; House Speaker Scott Bedke, by the way, voted in favor of it.

Going to show how you can use the magic culture war incantations, to defeat practically any bill at all.

Welcome to what passes for deliberative decision making in the Idaho Legislature in 2021.
 

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