Robert Ehlert: Primary results are promising for education

Robert Ehlert: Eyes on Idaho

May 22, 2014 

Robert Ehlert

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There are lot of new dots in the Idaho political picture following the primary vote Tuesday. It will take some time to connect them and decipher exactly what the view forward will look like - with perhaps one notable exception.

Some of the staunchest critics of the Idaho Core Standards lost out statewide, and their cries of federal conspiracies and meddling may subside.

John Eynon, the superintendent of public instruction candidate who ran against Common Core, won't have the same platform to voice his suspicions about the education reform standards for mathematics and English. Sen. Russ Fulcher, Gov. Butch Otter's opponent for the GOP nomination - who vowed to dismantle the Idaho Core Standards as if they were the Obamacare of the classroom - won't get that chance in the near future.

Though both Eynon and Fulcher attacked the standards on principle and did better than expected in their respective races, a majority of Idahoans sent a clear message that they are OK with the education reform train and comfortable with its direction.

The one casualty to the core cause was Sen. John Goedde, who chaired the Senate Education Committee. The seven-term senator from Coeur d'Alene lost to Mary Souza, who made issue of Goedde's support of the Idaho health exchange and the Idaho Core Standards - which she characterized as being "promoted by the federal government" with "unknown nature of its impacts." Are the known impacts of underachieving and unacceptable past standards preferable? Idaho said no on Tuesday.

Souza, Fulcher and Eynon all believe Idaho would be better to develop its own standards - a laudable goal but a dangerous step backward, in my view. They can't or won't grasp that the Idaho Core Standards are a pathway to doing just that.

Otter's nomination, by some measure, is a mandate for his Task Force for Improving Education. Though the specifics and progress will be challenged by Otter's next opponent, Democrat gubernatorial challenger A.J. Balukoff (a longtime Boise school board member), the two embrace the new standards.

Three of the four GOP Idaho superintendent of public instruction candidates are proponents of the Idaho Core Standards - and among them they collected nearly three-fourths of the votes Tuesday.

The winner, Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home, has said Common Core has a lot of upside even though she would push for tweaks. Her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones, also supports the standards.

I feel like the Kuna vote in favor of the levy this time around is another sign that Idaho is realizing that education is vital and worth the price.

So, looking back to Tuesday and forward to the general election and beyond, I have a sense that Idaho is turning the corner on its attitude and commitment to education. Though there is a long list of goals and problems to confront, I like the momentum.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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