Last week U.S. Congressman and 2018 Republican candidate for governor Raul Labrador gave a far-reaching interview with Idaho Education News’ Kevin Richert.
The focus was education policy in Idaho. In every poll that is the No. 1 issue among Idaho voters.
Labrador is, to many observers, the front-runner for the GOP primary next spring. Thus, his views on education deserve close scrutiny.
In some ways, his views are not radically different than those of other Idaho policymakers. Labrador specified that he supported Gov. Butch Otter’s K-12 task force’s recommendation to boost teacher salaries through a $250 million career ladder increase. This initiative still has a couple of years to go before being fully implemented by the Legislature. Labrador also has a generally positive take on the recent recommendations by the Otter workforce development/higher education task force, including a “digital campus” to expand college offerings around the state.
He does call for ending Idaho’s commitment to the Common Core standards, backs enhanced parental involvement and thinks local school districts should be given more flexibility to craft local programs to their particular area’s needs. He also is enthusiastic about charter schools.
He also wants to take a more hands-on approach to the State Board of Education, appointing members who back his priorities, saying that the “State Board has been lacking a real vision from the governor’s office”.
Where Labrador draws a stronger, more divergent line is that he believes Idaho should look seriously at creating a voucher system to deliver primary and secondary education. Such programs are controversial and their popular support is questionable. Utah voters in 2007, by a 62%-38% vote, blocked a voucher program passed by the Utah legislature and signed by Utah’s governor. In total, 11 state voucher measures have been on the ballot – and all have failed.
Labrador also points to a case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in April that might open the door to Idaho state funding of schools tied to religious groups. That case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, dealt with an application by a church school to qualify for a state program to cover its playground in recycled tires.
The application was denied by the State of Missouri because of a provision in the Missouri Constitution that specifies “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury . . in aid of any church . . . .” The Supreme Court found that, in this case, the First Amendment’s free exercise clause allowed for such funding despite the Missouri constitutional provision.
Labrador believes this might allow a court to strike Idaho’s equivalent constitutional provision which reads: “Neither the legislature nor any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation . . . to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church . . . .”
Rep. Ron Nate (R-Rexburg) in 2016 proposed amending this Idaho constitutional provision to loosen the restriction. If elected, Labrador would likely favor such change, based on his comments.
These views will likely draw the ire of educators and public education advocates. But, will it hurt him in the 2018 GOP primary? In a three-way race, perhaps not.