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  • Writer's pictureAction Idaho

Critchfield Exposed for Lying To Win Primary Election

Her lie, however, proves that educational choice is popular.

State Superintendent Debbie Critchfield won a crowded Republican primary in May. Her margin of victory was less than 6% over school reformer Brandon Durst and was about 13% over the incumbent, Sherri Ybarra. Democratic votes almost certainly won the election for her over Durst. She lied about supporting educational choice in order to win that election.

Critchfield staked out a moderate, kind-of but not really conservative agenda. Critical Race theory was bad, she thought. She wanted a “Parent’s Bill of Rights” that was against indoctrination, pro-transparency, and secured the ability of parents to question school boards about what is going on. A Parent’s Bill of Rights is mostly useless without legal mechanisms to enforce them. Critchfield offered no enforcement mechanisms.

Her Bill of Rights also allowed that “parents have the right to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs.” This was ambiguous, but her support for choice increased as the campaign wore on.

She was asked in a meeting with Treasure Valley Precinct Committeemen if her Bill of Rights meant that she favored state education money following the students or Education Savings Accounts. Her response: she was not really in favor of them but not opposed to them either.

Critchfield went even further in supporting education choice as the campaign wore on. In her debate with Durst and Ybarra on April 15, 2022, she offered qualified support. As the Idaho Capital Sun reported, “with some study” Critchfield said she would support a school choice propose if “we’re not defunding our public schools” and if “it could not come at the expense of our rural schools.” Durst in contrast came out with a full-throated defense of money following students. “We should have the public schools competing with private schools for money and for students,” he said. Ybarra seemed to be the outlier, with a no-way, no-how attitude toward any tax money following students to non-public schools.

Critchfield now seemed open to the idea.

Her website left an even stronger impression. She wanted to “support a variety of learning options that match the needs of the students and allow parents to choose. We need state funding and policies that support choice.” State funding to support choice. Repeat: State funding to support choice.

Republican voters can be forgiven for thinking that she supported “state funding to support choice.” She had, after all, said so.

The worm has turned, however. Testifying this week in front of the Senate education committee, Critchfield sang from Ybarra's songbook. In response to a pointed question from Sen. Tammy Nichols, Critchfield said: “I am not prepared to be an advocate for public funds to go to private schools" (see beginning at 1:25 in the video below). No state money for educational choice. Why hadn't she said that earlier? Someone should ask.

Candidate Critchfield: "We need state funding and policies that support choice.”

Superintendent Critchfield: “I am not prepared to be an advocate for public funds to go to private schools."

Only a knee-pad journalist could reconcile these statements!

Earlier she advocated for “state funding to support choice.” Now she put forward a different vision of school choice. Her statement in full: “I am not prepared to be an advocate for public funds to go to private schools but that does not take away from a parent’s ability to choose to send their child to a private school.”

Critchfield thinks that private schools should be allowed to stay open under Idaho and American law. The state should not stop private schools from operating. And the state will not interfere with a parent who would send a child to a private school. But it does not mean “state funding to support choice,” as she had earlier advocated.

To be fair, some countries like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and the American state of Progressive Oregon in the 1910s actually did shut down private schools and make every student go to a public, government-run school. Critchfield is in favor of allowing private schools to stay open. Thank you, ma’am!

Her position is “private schools can stay open but all public money stays with government-run public schools.” Why didn’t she say that in April during the debate? If she came to this position since April, perhaps someone in the media or in the legislature can ask her how she arrived at this position. Perhaps she should explain.

In any event, her authority in the matter of school choice is not great. Her legitimacy is nil, since she won through a lie on the most pressing matter of education concern in the state. She thumbed her nose at democracy in order to protect Our Democracy! The legislature can and should ignore her. The Republican Party should condemn her for violating its party platform which held: