BOISE — State Sen. Russell Fulcher is positioning for a run for governor, and he has been outspoken about the state’s controversial health insurance exchange. He calls it Gov. Butch Otter’s “regrettable decision to voluntarily thrust Idaho into Obamacare.”

But when it comes to public education — which accounts for nearly one half of the state’s budget — Fulcher isn’t saying much, and he isn’t taking the fight to the incumbent. On Thursday, he said Otter’s 31-member education reform task force came up short on details, but offered a “reasonable” list of ideas.

Meanwhile, Fulcher’s voting record shows that he was in line with Otter on every major education issue of 2013.

Fulcher, R-Meridian, filed the paperwork Saturday for a possible gubernatorial run, naming a political treasurer. This is required in order to raise campaign funds — but it doesn’t mean Fulcher has decided to run. On his campaign website, Fulcher says he will spend the next two weeks traveling the state, “talking with folks from every county and community to listen and learn what people want from their governor.”

Fulcher, the Senate GOP’s majority caucus chairman, sits on the Senate Education Committee. But on Thursday, he indicated that education would not be his centerpiece issue.

“That’s probably not what I’m going to be leading with at this stage,” Fulcher told Idaho Education News.

Fulcher gave mixed reviews to the task force, which issued a far-ranging list of 20 recommendations. Otter has given the plan his initial approval, but has said it might take several years to implement the $350 million plan.

“The governor’s education task force, to me, was pretty short on detail,” Fulcher said.

However, Fulcher also said several of the task force’s ideas have merit — including a $253 million teacher salary ladder that would boost pay for new teachers and veteran teachers; a mastery system that promotes students based on command of subject matter; and a proposal to restore $82 million in school districts’ operational funding, which was cut during the recession.

Fulcher has been a conservative vote on the Senate Education Committee. But compared to some of his more outspoken committee colleagues, Fulcher has played a relatively minor role on education issues.

Fulcher co-sponsored one education bill that passed in 2013. He worked with Boise Republican Sen. Clifford Bayer on a bill to eliminate a teacher early retirement program. This bill — also modeled after language from Proposition 1 — passed the Legislature, and Otter signed it into law.

  • Disclaimer: Idaho Education News is funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and housed at Boise State University.

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