Within orchestrated efforts to support — or oppose — a $410 million Idaho education bill — Idaho Capital Sun | Team Cansler

Originally published on IdahoEdNews.org on October 19, 2022

The special session of the legislature on September 1 was a done deal.

But that didn’t stop about 650 Idahoans from calling or emailing Gov. Brad Little’s office to share his plan to channel excess state dollars into tax cuts and education spending.

Much of the calls and emails were against Little’s proposal – which became House Bill 1, the only bill considered and passed during the day-long session.

HB 1 will provide $500 million in one-time tax refunds and $150 million in permanent income tax reductions. It also provides $330 million in sales tax revenue per year for K-12s and creates a new $80 million education fund to prepare Idahoans for in-demand jobs.

Little signed HB 1 on the evening of September 1 – hours after the Legislature held its only public hearing on the bill. The House of Representatives and Senate passed the legislation on the afternoon of September 1st.

To better manage the public response to HB 1, Idaho Education News submitted a public records request for email to Little’s office. The inquiry concerned the nine days from August 23 – the day Little announced the special session and presented a proposal with majority support in both Houses – and the date of the session.

Idaho EdNews also requested a listing of phone calls to Little’s office during the special session for the same time period.

The emails offer a glimpse into behind-the-scenes politics ahead of the special session. Though Little’s HB 1 was doomed, an education group rallied the support of its members, while a prominent conservative group appeared to mobilize its base to thwart the bill.

The head of the state teachers’ union thanked Little for trying to get new money for the schools. A Nampa School District trustee lashed out at Little’s plan to pour more money into “a broken system.”

Based on the numbers

The numbers are anecdotal and unscientific, but here’s how they break down.

emails. Idaho EdNews received 489 emails, a majority against Little’s bill.

More than 300 of these were serial letters. Many referred to the special session as a “complete surrender to the Reclaim Idaho Socialists” — a reference to the group, which had pushed a ballot initiative to increase funding for the K-12 through an income tax hike of about $330 million a year raise. The “surrender” comment echoed pre-meeting rhetoric from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative group that had publicly and vehemently opposed HB 1.

Meanwhile, Little also received more than 150 emails thanking him for convening the meeting, sent out at the urging of the Idaho Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, which supported HB 1’s proposed increase in funding.” will have a tremendous impact on Idaho public schools.”

Phone Messages. Call volume was relatively low compared to the orchestrated email campaigns, but was largely supportive. Little’s office received 146 calls before the meeting, spokeswoman Madison Hardy said, and about three-quarters of the callers supported HB 1.

“End the education money heap”

The anti-HB 1 email blitz criticized every component of the bill.

The bill failed to include aggressive income tax or property tax relief, opponents said. And they said the bill placated the left by pumping more money into public schools while not pushing school choice.

“The action ahead is simple, but daunting for some: remove the education fund dump, raise the tax cut to historic levels and go home,” many of the emails read.

“The Idaho public school system is pathetic and I don’t want my tax dollars supporting their leftist wake-up agendas.”

Some opponents deviated from the script and labeled public schools as hotbeds of indoctrination.

“The Idaho public school system is pathetic and I don’t want my tax dollars to support their left-wing, woke agendas,” said Eagle’s Joy Cameron, who posed as a retired special education teacher.

“Stop lining the pockets and feeding the sick beasts of interest groups who ‘groom’ students and not teach them the basics, literacy and numeracy!!” said Caldwell’s Amy Bower.

The exact origin of the email campaign is not clear. But many of the prepared talking points — and the off-script critiques — align with the positions of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. The bulk emails were sent through oneclickpolitics.com, a Washington, DC-based provider that provides “advocacy software” for nonprofit organizations. The website of Idaho Freedom Action – the advocacy arm of the Freedom Foundation – hosts several online petitions run by oneclickpolitics.

The Freedom Foundation does not respond to media inquiries.

At least two elected officials sent Little an anti-HB-1 form email: State Rep. Tammy Nichols, a Republican from Middleton who voted against the law Sept. 1; and Tracey Pearson, Nampa School Trustee.

Like many similar emails, Pearson’s email referred to public schools as “government schools” and said Little’s bill “simply throws more money at a broken system.”

Pearson was elected a trustee in the state’s third-largest school district in November 2021. She did not respond to a request for comment in her email.

“Your Proposed Educational Investments Might Change My Mind About Leaving”

Many teachers enhanced the IEA thank you script with their own stories.

“Every day my students and I try to study and concentrate while it’s miserably hot (and soon my room will be very cold).”

Shaunna Giltz, a special education math teacher at Pocatello, said she struggles delivering small group classes without the help of an aide — a position that has been vacant for six months.

Kali Connell, an eighth-grade math teacher at Wendell Middle School, said she hoped the money from HB 1 would ease construction problems. Right now, she said, she has personal air conditioning and personal heating in her classroom. “Every day my students and I try to study and concentrate while it’s miserably hot (and soon my room will be very cold).”

Post Falls High School teacher Matt Gunderson said his school continues to struggle to discourage educators from taking jobs across the state line in Washington. “It has been difficult for our students every time a highly effective and qualified teacher leaves for a better-paying job.”

Pocatello’s McKenzie Jones said her seventh year as an apprentice will likely be her last. Or maybe not. “Your proposed educational investments may change my mind about leaving,” she told Little.

IEA employees added their own pitches to their members’ email blitz; Union chair Layne McInelly and spokesman Mike Journee sent their own form emails to Little.

Heading into the special session, the IEA asked members to reach out to their local lawmakers to support HB 1, Journee said Tuesday. These efforts led to the decision to send thank-you notes to Little via email.

“It’s quite common to ask members to work with legislators or local school boards when an issue important to them is being discussed,” Journee said. “Asking her to get in touch with the governor is less common or even rare.”

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