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BOISE — After the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s forwarding of an internal Boise State University newsletter about diversity and inclusion programs kicked off a brouhaha among GOP House members, 28 of whom signed on to a July 9 protest letter to then-newly arrived BSU President Marlene Tromp, I began wondering on which other topics the IFF has been importuning lawmakers.

My public records request covered all emails from IFF to Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, the author of the BSU diversity letter, in the months of June and July this year. Ehardt, by the way, said she welcomed the scrutiny.

Now that I’ve had a chance to review the results, it appears clear that the libertarian-leaning, nonprofit “think tank” is focusing its sights squarely on education in Idaho.

Here are the nine emails the group sent to Ehardt, and other lawmakers, during those two months:

On June 6, IFF sent lawmakers the copy of the internal newsletter from then-interim BSU President Martin Schimpf to faculty and staff about diversity and inclusion programs. IFF Vice President Fred Birnbaum headed the email, “Dear Sens and Reps: BSU is going in an increasingly radical direction.”

On June 24, IFF sent an email headed, “A hard truth: It’s time to repeal Common Core.” It included a copy of an article from IFF President Wayne Hoffman criticizing the state’s content standards for what public school students should learn, which serve as a “minimum threshold … in order to establish some consistency in academic content statewide,” according to the State Department of Education. Also included was another article headed, “Tuttle Twins author: Parents should regularly de-school their kids,” and a link to a two-page analysis of school funding and test scores in Idaho from Birnbaum, who contended, “Schools spend too much of their increased funding on administrative positions and bureaucratic bloat, while students have little to show for it.”

On July 1, Hoffman sent lawmakers an appeal headed, “Help Repeal Common Core.” Included was this pitch: “You can help secure a Common Core repeal hearing in your county. … You have to make it happen!” Also included was an article on the lawsuit between GOP legislative leaders and state Treasurer Julie Ellsworth over office space on the first floor of the Capitol, siding with Ellsworth in the dispute.

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On July 15, two emails from Birnbaum went out to legislators. One was headed “Dear BSU: Drop the radical social justice agenda,” and also included an article decrying the Idaho State Lottery’s 30th anniversary as evidence of “30 years of victims”; and an appeal to lawmakers to “join our private Idaho Freedom Activists Facebook Group.” On the same date, Birnbaum sent lawmakers his response to a counter-letter to BSU President Tromp from every Democrat in the House and Senate, objecting to the Dems’ contention that the Legislature hasn’t adequately funded higher education in Idaho.

On July 16, three separate emails went out from the IFF. One, from Birnbaum, forwarded a memo from the BSU provost’s office addressed “Dear Colleagues,” informing faculty members about the GOP lawmakers’ protest letter, the Democratic lawmakers response letter, and stating, “I want to reassure you that I remain steadfastly committed to the programs and initiatives we’ve undertaken to make Boise State an accessible, welcoming and supportive campus for all students.” Birnbaum headed the message, “This was forwarded to me from BSU and I thought it made sense to share it.”

On the same date, Birnbaum also forwarded a message from BSU’s School of Public Service dean, headed “Statement on a diverse and inclusive Boise State.” Birnbaum noted, “Also forwarded to me.”

Also on the same date, Birnbaum forwarded Ehardt and Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, an email he’d already sent to Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, with teacher salary and career ladder information for all Idaho teachers on contract as of the end of the 2018-19 school year. Birnbaum had requested the data from the state Department of Education.

On July 24, Birnbaum emailed lawmakers about “Higher Education Funding,” contending that Idaho already funds higher education adequately and need not increase funding.

Last week, the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy released a new research report showing that state funding, as a share of university costs, has fallen precipitously in the last three decades. “Policymakers have wavered from the state’s commitment to higher education,” the report said. “Tuition and fees now account for 47 percent of funding for higher education, up from 7 percent in 1980. State funding dropped to 54 percent from 93 percent of funding over the same period.”

The report said, “A positive trend is that low-income students and students of color are enrolling at greater rates in Idaho’s public four-year institutions.” But with college costs rising, those students are facing more hurdles, the report found.

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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