Idaho governor signs ‘social justice’ bill, but chides Legislature for passing it

“We must be focused on facts and data, not anecdotes and innuendo,” Gov. Brad Little wrote.

By: - April 29, 2021 1:45 pm

Gov. Brad Little and State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra. Photo courtesy of Idaho Education News.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has signed a bill into law that is premised on the idea that public schools and teachers are indoctrinating students into a “social justice” worldview.

In a letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke, the governor suggested the Legislature’s approach may damage Idaho public education.

The pandemic gave students, parents, teachers and school administrators “enormous challenges” to overcome, Little said. “We need to refocus our efforts on the tremendous tasks ahead” and should “signal to teachers that we value their important work, and we want them to remain in Idaho schools.”

Echoing the concerns of at least one Idaho legislator who voted against it, Little criticized the process behind the bill — when a faction of elected officials claimed, for example, that Idaho educators “indoctrinate” students and teach them “critical race theory” in public schools. Idaho teachers, organizations and the Idaho State Board of Education have said these claims are untrue.

“We must be focused on facts and data, not anecdotes and innuendo,” he wrote.

Legislators also killed the public school budget for teacher salaries, which was rewritten Tuesday, and blocked the remaining education budgets while they worked on the bill. 

“This year’s delay of budget-setting has created hardships for schools, distracting school leaders and professional educators from more important, student-centered priorities,” Little said in his letter to Bedke.

The bill prohibits schools and educators from:

  • teaching that any sex, race or religion is inherently superior or inferior.
  • teaching that individuals by virtue of their sex, race or religion are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others.
  • making distinctions or classification of students based on race or color.

The law includes a provision that could cut funding from schools that violate those rules.

“I agree that Idaho public schools and higher education institutions should adhere to the principles of equality, freedom of expression, and respect for all,” the governor wrote in his letter notifying House leadership that he signed the bill into law. “However, the claim that there is widespread, systemic indoctrination occurring in Idaho classrooms is a serious allegation. Most worryingly, it undermines popular support for public education in Idaho.”

The governor noted that Idaho’s public education system and curriculum are locally driven, with school boards making decisions with input from parents and educators.

“If parents or teachers spot an example of instruction that concerns them,” their concerns should be handled at the local level, which is “the closest and most responsive to our students and parents,” Little wrote.

HB 377 transmittal letter

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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton, senior investigative reporter, joined the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover include health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Dutton hails from Twin Falls. She attended college at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, radio journalism, data visualization and much more. Her resume also includes fellowships from the Association of Health Care Journalists, Idaho Press Club, Idaho Media Initiative and Investigative Reporters and Editors. Dutton also teaches an upper-division journalism course at Boise State University. She resides in Boise with her husband, young daughter and two cats.