Idaho voters will decide Tuesday who will be the state’s top education official.
Republican Debbie Critchfield, a former president of the State Board of Education, and Democrat Terry Gilbert, a former teacher and president of the Idaho Education Association, face off in the race for the next superintendent of public instruction.
The Superintendent of Public Instruction directs the State Department of Education and sits on the State Board of Education. Supervisors are elected for a term of four years.
Incumbent Sherri Ybarra, who has held the position for nearly eight years, lost to Critchfield in the Republican primary in May.
The election comes as school districts across the state struggle with teacher shortages and under-qualified teachers, school support staff shortages, the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and aging facilities. The new superintendent will also take office as the Legislature decides how to allocate $330 million in K-12 education appropriations in a special session earlier this year.
Candidates discussed the choice of school, experience
Throughout the election, the candidates debated issues including whether taxpayer dollars should be used to help residents pay for private schools and how each candidate would fit the bill.
Critchfield said his experience on the State Board of Education, including his time serving during the COVID-19 pandemic, has given him a deep understanding of the challenges facing schools. He said he understands the role and has experience working with the Idaho Legislature.
His priorities include getting the state to prepare students to enter the workforce and decentralizing the Department of Education to better serve local school districts.
He said he also supports school choice, which the state Department of Education describes as allowing parents to choose the “educational method” that works best for their families. It is commonly used as a way of referring to the idea of public funding for students attending private schools.
He previously told the state of Idaho that his first commitment as superintendent would be to public schools. While he doesn’t specifically support the public school budget, he said he would be open to talking about “how we deal with private school tuition.”
Gilbert said her time as a teacher gave her an understanding of what teachers experience in the classroom and made her a good candidate for the role. He said his priorities include increasing funding for vocational programs, investing in quality early childhood education, improving the state’s graduation rate, maintaining school buildings, addressing the state’s literacy rate and treating teachers and support staff “like professionals.”
He was especially outspoken throughout the campaign against the use of public funds for private schools. He has repeatedly used the term “voucher groups” to refer to groups that spread rumors about public schools and push for private schools, and said his opponent would not stand for public education.