Superintendent hopefuls debate again

The four GOP candidates discuss funding, testing and raising taxes.

IDAHO EDUCATION NEWSMay 9, 2014 

Editor's note: Republican superintendent candidates were asked during the Idaho Public Television debate Thursday whether under any circumstances they would advocate for a tax increase to improve the state's schools. This story initially reported that they were asked if they would advocate for a tax hike. It has been revised to include the "under any circumstances" qualification.

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John Eynon was the only state superintendent’s candidate who said he would not advocate for raising taxes to supply more money for schools.

Andy Grover was the only candidate who said he supports a new test aligned to Idaho Core Standards.

Randy Jensen pushed for parents to get more involved and pledged to launch a statewide slogan: “Read and Play for 20 Minutes a Day.”

Sherri Ybarra continued to be light on details, saying she would “tap the brakes” on testing and would support a tax increase if “appropriate.”

The four Republican superintendent’s candidates were tested Thursday by a panel of three journalists during an hour-long debate on Idaho Public Television.

Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV, Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News and Bill Roberts of the Idaho Statesman fired questions at the candidates that had not been asked in previous debates.

Maybe the most intriguing was Davlin’s question. She asked if candidates, under any circumstances, would advocate for a tax increase. Davlin requested only a “yes” or “no” answer. The answers:

Eynon - No.

Jensen - Yes.

Grover - Yes.

Ybarra wouldn’t make a stand and said it depended on “if it’s appropriate funding.”

Roberts pushed the candidates to solve the problem of why so many kids in Idaho are unable to read by the third grade.

Grover said he would focus on teacher professional development.

Ybarra said he would support Idaho Core Standards.

Eynon said Idaho could learn from Washington state, which has “service centers” that do some “great interventions in the first grade.”

Jensen said it’s all about developing vocabulary before kids come to school, and that’s up to parents. “I will encourage every parent to be engaged.”

Corbin wanted to know where the candidates stand on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the Common Core-aligned exam that is being field tested this spring. Next year, the test will be used to measure student and teacher performances.

Eynon said he is “definitely” against the test and against the whole idea of “high-stakes” testing.

Jensen agreed. “We are not sure of the reliability of the test.”

Ybarra said she would “tap the brakes” to ensure the information is used “appropriately.”

Grover said he’s anxious to see the results. “We’ve created curriculum to reach the higher standards and now we have to have some accountability.”

Roberts wanted the candidates to be clear about where they would get more than $350 million to fund the 20 recommendations that were created by the governor’s task force and are supported by legislative leaders.

Eynon has said he’s not a fan of the recommendations. He said Idaho must “jumpstart the economy by gaining access to lands and resources” before education can receive more money.

Jensen said he wanted to focus on creating a strong economy, but said that comes about by “making our schools better.”

Grover said he would start with “zero-based budgeting” and find line items to redirect.

Ybarra said she would form relationships with legislators to find a vision for the future.

And here are their parting comments:

Grover reinforced that he is the only district superintendent in the race, and has “practical experience” to run the State Department of Education.

Ybarra also said she has the education background and experience to do the job, and would advocate for teachers.

Eynon said the best government is the one that governs the least; if elected, he pledged to increase local control.

Jensen fought back tears when he reminisced about the educational experiences of his own four children. Not only do teachers make a difference, but so do cooks, bus drivers, coaches and custodians.

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