BOISE — The Idaho House of Representatives on Tuesday defeated the public school budget for teachers on a tied vote, after debate that focused alternately on whether Idaho wants to pay its teachers, and whether “critical race theory” is somehow being promoted in Idaho public schools because teacher professional development receives state funds.

Two members were absent for the vote; tie votes fail.

The opposition to the budget was spearheaded by Reps. Ron Nate, Priscilla Giddings, Wendy Horman and Heather Scott — though Nate, Giddings and Horman all voted for the budget earlier in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where it won unanimous support on March 12. The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Matt Bundy, R-Mountain Home, a high school teacher, urged support.

“I’ve had the blessing of two of the most wonderful careers a human being could ever desire to have,” Bundy told the House. “I protected our nation as a combat aviator for 20 year, and after that I thought, what else could I do? And I decided to dedicate my life to public service and education. I know a lot of teachers in this state. And I want to make sure that you’re all comfortable that these teachers feel like I do, they are there for the students, they are there for the communities, and they are there to make sure that our students are career ready, that our students have the necessary skills to go forth and pursue their dream.”

The budget bill, HB 354, is the piece of the public school budget that funds teachers, including the teacher career ladder pay increases that already are required by law, but that Idaho teachers haven’t yet received this year because of budget holdbacks. HB 354 would make them whole on those raises.

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, warned the House before the vote that the defeat of a major portion of the public school budget would likely mean at least a week’s more work to craft a new version, potentially extending the legislative session.

Nate, R-Rexburg, told the House, “These are some of the biggest budgets we’ll see this session, these education budgets. We need to make sure that they are fulfilling the mission of education without going into areas that are against Idaho values and American values, and social justice and critical race theory, as we have seen earlier this session, has reared its head in pre-K, it has reared its head in higher education, and now we know it’s also becoming a problem in K-12 education.”

On pre-K, Nate was referring to false claims promoted by the Idaho Freedom Foundation that a federal early learning grant would require Idaho to partner with a national group promoting those theories. Nate also raised the same concerns in opposing the higher education budget, which died in the House last week.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation, a lobbying group that opposes public funding for education, has been campaigning heavily against “social justice” and “critical race theory” this year. A day before the vote, the foundation tweeted: “The next social justice fight in the Legislature: K-12 school budget. Stay tuned.” Moments after the House vote, again on Twitter, the IFF announced, “Victory.”

Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who takes a lead role on JFAC in crafting public school budgets including this one, said her opposition came because she wanted a separate policy bill passed “that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or sex or any other aspects,” and that “has not moved.” She called for defeating the budget until either intent language is added saying that $9 million in professional development funding can’t be used for discriminatory programs, or until a separate bill on that passes.

However, the budget bill, HB 354, has no requirements for teaching any topic in professional development. It requires that teacher professional development funded under the bill, which is determined by local school boards, fall under district improvement plans as required by law. It also requires that such training “supports instructors and pupil services staff to increase student learning, mentoring, and collaboration,” and be “measurable, provide the instructors and pupil services staff with a clear understanding of their progress, (and) be incorporated into their performance evaluations.”

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, a teacher, said, “My head is just absolutely spinning right now, listening to a lot of this debate.”

He noted that like other Idaho teachers this year, he’s been busy trying to shift from in-person teaching to online to hybrid and back again.

“I don’t have time to teach critical race theory, are you kidding me?” he said. “I have to just prepare my content for the next day. This whole discussion on critical race theory coming into classrooms this year? That’s nuts.”

Bundy, who teaches government at Mountain Home High School, said, “I was racking my brain, and here’s my list. These are things I personally went through in professional development.” He listed literacy; specific instruction on how to develop online instruction modules; career-technical education; blended instruction; college prep, and best practices as demonstrated when “you watch another teacher teach, and you say, ‘I never thought of that.’”

“These are the types of things that we do in professional development,” he said. “It’s what it sounds like: How do I be a better teacher? That’s what professional development is. And you know who chooses the professional development? Your school board. … We have oversight there.”

Giddings, R-White Bird, told the House, “The problem is that in that teacher development, what’s being required for our teachers to undergo is specific training teaching them critical theory. That needs to stop.”

Without defining what she meant by “critical theory,” Giddings said, “Critical theory is political in nature and it violates our Constitution, and how are we as a Legislature going to stop that violation of our Constitution? We have to do it with the budget. And we have to include intent language specifically saying critical theory will not be advocated by our teachers or upon our teachers.”

She also objected to any mentions of “equity” in teacher professional development, though there were none in the bill.

“Equity in their language is a redistribution of resources to make sure that there is equity for everybody,” the third-term representative told the House. “Redistribution of resources is not equality, it’s socialism, and it’s political in content, and it does not need to be in our education system or in our $1.1 billion budget for our teachers.”

House Education Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, said, “This budget is about teachers and paying teachers.” He said as far as the issues opponents were raising, “I’ve not heard any complaints from any parents, anywhere.”

Rep. Linda Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said when she hears concerns from other lawmakers about things happening in schools, she contacts her local school district.

“My superintendent had to google what was just mentioned a little earlier to find out what it was, and of course that taught me that he didn’t do it,” she said. “And he said, ‘We don’t teach that, we don’t allow that. We teach what we’re supposed to be teaching.’”

Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, said she had no documentary evidence, “But I can tell you that I have talked to parents in my district … who tell me that their high school students are getting critical race theory from their government teacher in my district.”

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, made a similar claim, saying she knows of a teacher whose contract wasn’t renewed over the issue.

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, a retired school district superintendent, said any policy issues should be brought to the House Education Committee, of which he’s vice chairman, not used as a reason to kill budgets.

“This is strictly about teacher salaries,” he said of HB 354, noting that the state Board of Examiners removed $54 million from the school budget as part of budget holdbacks earlier this year.

“This has been a tough year. In many cases early in the year you had to teach online and in class. You had a face shield, you had masks. This is a tough year. And we didn’t even give ’em their raises for this year, the year we’re in, because the Board of Examiners took that money back,” he said.

“We need to say right now: Thank you, and here’s the money that you should’ve got at the beginning of the year,” he said.

Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, noted that Idaho Code 67-5909, the Idaho Human Rights Act, already prohibits discrimination in public education on the basis of “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.”

“So I don’t think we want to reinvent the wheel there,” he said.

Mathias noted that a state study of Idaho’s “teacher pipeline” found that each year about a thousand Idaho teachers leave the profession.

“The fact that we don’t pay them, and the fact that we have conversations like this every time it’s time to pay them, exacerbates the situation,” Mathias told the House. “We have a constitutional obligation to maintain the public school system, so let’s not get too far astray here. Let’s fund our teachers.”

Scott, R-Blanchard, said, “We need to protect our teachers from being forced to teach this garbage of social justice including critical race theory. … There’s a lot of ideology coming to our schools.”

The Legislature is required by the Idaho Constitution to set a balanced budget; it can’t complete this year’s legislative session until it does so. Lawmakers are now back to the drawing board on this piece of the public schools budget.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.