JFAC approves higher ed budget, sends bill to House despite “social justice” debates

JFAC meeting on March 2, 2022
Screenshot of the JFAC meeting on March 2

The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) met on March 2 to discuss budget items relating to the Idaho State Board of Education, including funding for colleges and universities within the state.

In 2021, JFAC held up the higher education budget for weeks and ultimately passed it with budget cuts to all public universities. 

This year, despite a proposed amendment, to cut Boise State’s budget, the higher education budget passed out of committee and to the House of Representatives on its first try.

The most heated topic of discussion was Rep. Ron Nate’s amendment to the budget, which focused on fears surrounding Critical Race Theory (CRT) and “social justice programming.” The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a candidate for lieutenant governor in the upcoming 2022 primary election.

The amendment would have removed $552,700 from Boise State’s budget in order to “reduce support for diversity and inclusion programming at BSU,” according to Nate. Idaho State University and the University of Idaho were also mentioned in the amendment.

This amount of money was selected based on various programs and the associated staff wages at the universities mentioned. 

JFAC meeting on March 2, 2022
[Screenshot of the JFAC meeting on March 2.]

In regards to Boise State, Nate mentioned the following programs: the Student Equity Center, the Blue Sky Institute, the Gender Equity Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning. Nate claimed that these programs are based on the teachings of CRT and that they violate House Bill 377, which was passed last year.

While listing off the basis for his amendment, Nate started naming a “critical race theorist” featured on the Gender Equity Center’s website. However, he was cut off by both Rep. Colin Nash and Rep. Rick D. Youngblood, who advised Nate to not mention names in his testimony.

Several members of the committee objected to Nate’s discussions of CRT during a meeting regarding budgets. 

Rep. Scott Syme went as far as to comment that he “[doesn’t] understand why they would be against teaching about the diverse nature of society.” 

Syme added that he hasn’t heard a distinct definition of what diversity and inclusion actually is.

The amendment ultimately did not pass, with Nate and Giddings being the only representatives to vote in favor of it.

The budget in its original form passed with 11 votes in favor and eight in opposition, with one abstention.

Andrew Mitzel, the director of government affairs for Boise State, said in an email to The Arbiter that he felt that this budget was the best case scenario.

“We had heard from a number of legislators that wanted to be conservative on spending as well as limiting the impact on Idaho students and their tuition,” Mitzel explained.

Mitzel also noted that the budget has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

“We will be actively working with our legislative partners in the House to ensure its passage and we hope the budget is considered and voted on sometime in the next two weeks,” Mitzel said.

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