Attorney General Raul Labrador rightly wants to know how the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) was involved in shaping the Caldwell School District’s proposed gender identity policy, which he asked about in a letter to school officials last week.
That’s good, and the answer isn’t that hard to come by. The association has been advocating transgenderism for quite some time now. As we pointed out a couple of years ago, the ISBA has been telling Idaho school districts that they’re compelled by federal law to let students use the bathroom of their selected gender identity. No such law exists, but that’s the policy the association is pushing.
I think there’s more to look at. In 2021, the State Department of Education paid the ISBA $39,000 as part of a no-bid contract to redo the maps for Idaho’s school district trustee zones. State law requires a review and redrawing of school trustee zones, the areas school board members represent, following each U.S. census.
The lack of competitive bidding is troublesome in itself. The Department of Education signed the deal with the association when it was under the control of Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra. Scott Graf, the communications director for newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield, said it appears the prior administration did not put out a “request for proposals” from other organizations or entities that could do the work.
Equally troubling, to me, is the fact that the ISBA is an organization that represents school district trustees. Obviously, the organization would have more than a passing interest in the redrawing of trustee boundaries. Quinn Perry, who handles government affairs for ISBA, assures me that the organization is merely the middleman, using contractors to collect mapping data and then working with school districts to approve the new maps. But I’m skeptical.
Many state legislatures set their own legislative district boundaries. Idaho, like eight other states, has independent redistricting commissions that are supposed to create an arms-length process for determining political boundaries.
If Idaho’s process for drawing district lines is a guide, just the appearance of self-dealing should have been enough for state officials to find — or at minimum, seek out — another possible vendor to do this work. My guess is that the contract is another example of the often too-cozy relationship between education special interest groups and the government entities that oversee the state’s education system.
Deploying seven lobbyists this session, the ISBA is a prominent force at the Statehouse. The group formally opposes education choice on the pretense that it hurts public schools but really because the organization doesn’t want anyone to interfere with the government’s monopoly on schooling. Its members also oppose repealing the religious bigotry of the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.
The $39,000 is arguably not a lot of money, but it’s just part of the public money the organization uses to operate. The ISBA also receives dues payments from Idaho school districts to belong to the organization.
In other words, while you may oppose the organization’s stances, you’re paying for ISBA to take them. The State Department of Education merely provided yet another vehicle to help the group do that, and the bonus for ISBA was that its members cared about the outcome of its contracted work.