Rep. Charlie Shepherd

Rep. Charlie Shepherd

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Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, says he’s changed his mind on his commitment to support the new version of the early-learning grant bill when it comes back. Shepherd had announced he’d support it when it came back after drawing widespread criticism for his comments during the debate in which the House killed the bill authorizing acceptance of the $6 million grant from the Trump Administration, in which Shepherd expressed concern about mothers working outside the home; he later apologized to the House for those comments and said he didn’t mean to insult working mothers.

Shepherd, a first-term representative, said this morning, “I learned, being new at this game, that you don’t prematurely commit to anything and don’t make promises that are from a personal standpoint, and not based on the overall wants of your constituents. My statements I made … triggered a barrage of feedback from my constituents, and they overwhelmingly do not want me to support the legislation. They do not like the federal government being involved in the curriculum of our children in any way, good or bad.”

However, the new version of the grant bill, SB 1193, includes specific “intent language” added by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to make sure that doesn’t happen. The intent language, which has the force of law, ties strings to the state’s acceptance of the $6 million grant, saying, “Moneys appropriated in Section 1 of this act for the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five Renewal shall not be used to dictate curricula for use by local collaboratives.” The local collaboratives themselves will make any decisions about curriculum. That was the plan before as well, but the bill now makes it a legal requirement.

It also says, “Local collaborative stakeholder participation shall include: parents/families, early childhood educators, a representative from the State Board of Education, at least one representative from the local K-12 school district and/or charter school, and at least three community participants from a mix of public, private, nonprofit, faith-based, government, health care, and civic organizations.”

Shepherd acknowledged that the bill has changed and that concerns raised in the earlier House debate that accepting the grant would somehow enable indoctrination of young children on "critical race theory" and "social justice" have been addressed, but he said his constituents don’t know that. “And if I cannot educate them on what the bill actually does in time, at this point it’s almost political suicide for me to support the bill,” he said.

SB 1193 is on the House’s 3rd Reading Calendar and could come up for a final vote at any time, possibly as soon as today or tomorrow.

Shepherd said with “the political atmosphere out there right now, people are certainly concerned at the curriculum that the federal government is trying to bring into the state and they do not want any part of that.” He didn’t specify what curriculum that might be.

“I wish they could figure out some way to direct that funding in a completely different way, through a different channel, so I could guarantee my constituents” their curriculum concerns had been addressed, he said. “I really am going to be very unpopular with some of the people out there that want and need this money, but my first and most important obligation is to the people that elected me and put me in office.”

The $6 million grant is actually a continuation and expansion of a program that’s been coordinating early-learning collaboratives around the state, which have decided on their own local priorities for enhancing early learning, from a kindergarten-readiness push in Kuna to a business-led effort to regain lost child-care capacity in Valley County to an immensely popular “Read-Talk-Play Every Day” initiative aimed at families of preschool children in American Falls.

The grant, authorized by the Trump Administration, has strong support from Idaho's business community, its two GOP U.S. senators, and the State Board of Education, along with participants in 15 local collaboratives around the state.

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.

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