Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s education task force issued six recommendations after their last meeting on Aug. 26.
The task force does not have legislative authority, but was created to examine indoctrination in Idaho education, with the goal of rooting out allegedly harmful philosophies such as critical race theory or socialism, according to the original press release.
Riled in controversy from the beginning and following the longest legislative session in Idaho history, a judge ruled in August that McGeachin also violated public records laws by refusing to release public feedback forms.
The insinuation that Idaho public schools are indoctrinating students has been met with much criticism from students and educators.
“When the lieutenant governor announced that she was going to form a task force, it seemed, I guess, ‘absurd’ is probably the right word,” Dominik Sparling said.
Sparling is a second-year student at Boise State, majoring in political science and social science secondary education with an emphasis in history. Sparling attended Idaho public schools from kindergarten to high school, graduating from Boise High in 2019.
“I couldn’t figure out where indoctrination of socialist Marxist ideologies could possibly come from, because it is so at odds with my personal experience, and those of other people I’ve spoken to,” Sparling said. “I don’t think they represented a nice holistic view of education and critical race theory and all the stuff that they were talking about.”
Sparling was not alone in questioning the validity of the taskforce’s indoctrination concerns.
“It’s a non-issue that’s just being used as a weapon to gain political points,” political science graduate student Thomas Campbell said.
Campbell sees the education taskforce as political maneuvering by Lt. Gov. McGeachin as she prepares to run against Gov. Brad Little next year.
“I’ve seen government teachers make sure that students have access to republicans and democrats and that they debate the issues and hold their own cards close to their chest,” Boise State professor Dr. Phil Kelly said.
Kelly has been a professor of educational policy at Boise State for 24 years, with a Ph.D. in educational policy. He was an assessment accountability commissioner for Idaho and served on the Boise school board for six years, from 2006 to 2012.
“I’ve never seen a teacher cross the line where they’re trying to indoctrinate children to think like themselves,” Kelly said.
There were six recommendations issued by the taskforce, including updating language in Title 33 to be more specific, and inviting Senate and House Education Committees to work with the task force on specific policies.
Perhaps the most controversial recommendation was a declaration of support for school choice, with the taskforce highlighting an example of school choice that includes Idaho establishing education savings accounts for students, allowing parents to enroll children in a school of their choice.
School choice is controversial due to the political ramifications of tax dollars in the form of vouchers given to parents who can then put the money towards enrolling their children at private schools, resulting in government funds supporting religious ideologies or other private school agendas that may not be shared by the general public.
“They don’t use the word vouchers, but they’re proposing a voucher program, or proposing a voucher program with the educational savings accounts,” Kelly said.
School choice could be a good thing, as it may allow parents to choose a school that is best suited for their children’s individual learning needs, according to Campbell.
Kelly raised concerns, pointing out that public schools provide a common ground that is largely otherwise lacking in our society.
“If we attend schools with only people that think like us, how do we learn to deliberate and engage in civil discourse?” Kelly said.
Sparling thinks public schools, although at times imperfect, are the best way to provide equal access to a quality education.
“I feel very strongly that if something’s wrong with public schools, fix it. Don’t try to privatize it,” Sparling said.
Campbell believes that more community involvement would help Idaho work on improving education more constructively.
“There’s ways to meaningfully engage in these discussions,” Campbell said.
Idaho has a history of heated debate around education issues. Legislators battled for three years over science standards and how to approach the subject of climate change.
As a conversation with highly political undertones, education is set to be a key battleground between Gov. Little and Lt. Gov. McGeachin in next year’s gubernatorial election.