BOISE — A day after the House narrowly killed legislation to authorize a $6 million federal grant to improve early-childhood learning in Idaho, Gov. Brad Little expressed disappointment, and a state representative apologized for remarks during the debate suggesting mothers should stay home with their kids.
“I was hopeful,” Little told the Idaho Press Club in a virtual news conference Wednesday. “That grant was going to help these school districts. That is not to be now, if I understand what happened yesterday, and I’m disappointed in that, but the evidence is overwhelming that what we do for these kids early is something that is good for Idaho and good for our students.”
“We’ll try again,” the governor said.
Little said he didn’t yet know if that would mean another attempt to pass legislation this year. “We’ll continue to work at it, and we’ll continue to work at the Legislature, trying to address their concern,” he said. “There’s always a concern when it’s a federal grant, with strings, some designated, some not designated. But it is in everybody’s best interest, particularly these kids that have challenges, and families that have tougher challenges. We have both a constitutional and a moral obligation to try to help these kids.”
In the House’s stormy debate, opponents raised an array of concerns that included misinformation about the grant, including that it would be a tool to press a social-justice indoctrination program on Idaho’s youngest children.
“This whole grant is about engaging families,” said Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, which was slated to oversee the grant program for the state Board of Education. “We work with families throughout Idaho with young children and help provide supports to them. The whole purpose of it is to ensure that families, child care providers, anyone who’s working and caring for children birth through age 5 has information they need to best prepare their child for school.”
“We don’t dictate curriculum,” she said.
The grant had strong backing from Idaho’s business community and the state’s two GOP U.S. senators; the funding was authorized by former President Trump.
“We’re going to regroup and figure out what our path forward is, if there’s a path forward,” Oppenheimer said Wednesday. “I certainly hope that there is, because this is really devastating to our families and communities who have worked so hard over the past year or two to build early learning supports within their own community.”
“I know the governor’s office and the state Board, they’re talking about it to see what our options are,” Oppenheimer said.
Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Riggins, speaking against the bill, HB 226, told the House on Tuesday, “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going. … We are really hurting the family unit in the process.”
On Wednesday, he apologized. “I have learned the hard way that misguided statements do not help solve anything,” Shepherd told the House. “I sincerely apologize to any and all that I have offended, and I will work hard to right any wrongs that I have done.”
“My intent was to compliment mothers in every way possible,” Shepherd his House colleagues. “I stand before you now to admit that I failed miserably. After hearing my remarks played back, I recognize how my remarks sounded derogatory, offensive and even sexist towards the mothers of this state. … Single working mothers are the strongest and most courageous people that I know. I witness the extraordinary abilities of professional mothers every day, just like the mothers in this body. I have the utmost respect and admiration for every one of them.”