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Ybarra, Wilson face off in debate for top Idaho schools post

Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, left, speaks with Gov. Butch Otter during the legislative preview with reporters Jan. 6, 2017, at the State Capitol building Friday in Boise, Idaho. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)
Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, left, speaks with Gov. Butch Otter during the legislative preview with reporters Jan. 6, 2017, at the State Capitol building Friday in Boise, Idaho. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)
Associated Press

BOISE – Candidates for Idaho’s top education post sparred over school safety, early education and their vision for student success during a debate Friday night on Idaho Public Television.

Current Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, a Republican, is a former teacher and previously served as a federal curriculum director in Mountain Home School District in southwestern Idaho. Challenger Cindy Wilson, a Democrat, is a longtime classroom teacher who has served on the state Board of Correction and Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force and recently retired from her position as a government teacher at a Boise High School to concentrate on the Superintendent of Public Instruction race.

The two took questions on a range of school topics, the Idaho Press reported, including whether the state should mandate early childhood programs like preschool.

Wilson said state-funded early education programs help close gaps in achievement among students.

“We know that preschool is helping tremendously in the districts it’s been implemented,” said Wilson.

Ybarra said she doesn’t support state-mandated early childhood programs.

The two also disagreed over the state of under-served student demographics like Hispanic families, Native American families, low income families and students in rural areas. Ybarra said test scores, literacy rates and graduation rates have risen under her term as superintendent.

“There’s a lot of great work happening to ensure we meet our 60 percent goal,” said Ybarra about the statewide 60 percent college degree or technical certificate goal.

Wilson said gaps for those demographics haven’t improved under Ybarra’s tenure. She also took aim at Ybarra’s approach to school safety, saying the incumbent’s $20 million school safety proposal was created without adequate insight from important stakeholders like parents, educators, administrators and the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security.

“Our children’s safety should not be a political issue that’s thrown around like this,” said Wilson. A parent committee convened by Ybarra was merely presented with the $20 million plan, she said. “They had no input, no say.”

Wilson said her school safety plan would cost nothing because the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security is already implementing plans and addressing student mental health issues, in part through a new $400,000 federal grant.

Ybarra said her “Keep Idaho Students Safe” proposal is actually the third phase of an anti-bullying initiative and that educators and parents gave her key feedback in its creation.

Ybarra said just in the past week, she brought in a principal from Columbine High School, site of the notorious mass shooting, and he said she was doing “everything right.”

“The most important part of the initiative has to do with training, training, training,” Ybarra said.

Both candidates said they want to continue the so-called career ladder system to improve teacher pay and take further steps to improve educator wages.

The debate is a collaborative effort of the Idaho Press Club, Boise State University’s School of Public Service, University of Idaho’s McClure Center, Idaho State University’s Department of Political Science, League of Women Voters Education Fund, and Idaho Public Television.

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