Foundation is threat to future of the Gem State

Jim Jones

Chuck Winder had it right when he recently said the so-called Idaho Freedom Foundation, or IFF, was “one of the biggest threats we have to our democracy in our state.” Winder, a Republican and president pro tem of the Idaho Senate, had just witnessed the disruptive role played by the foundation in one of the worst legislative sessions on record. He bemoaned the fact that so many legislators had followed the IFF’s lead in making it such a fiasco.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation is a member of the State Policy Network, which supports operations like IFF in the 50 states with the objective of driving state governments ever further to the right. The IFF and its companion organizations and financial supporters conduct cultural warfare as a means of winning elections and growing their power.

IFF has established itself as one of the most powerful drivers of policy in the state of Idaho during the last several legislative sessions. Its acolytes in the legislature regularly vote IFF’s party line on divisive issues. Some of the most disruptive legislators in the recent session have the highest scores on IFF’s Freedom Index.

One of the primary goals of the foundation is to dismantle Idaho’s public education system. Its president, Wayne Hoffman, spelled out the group’s antipathy to public education in a February 2019 op-ed: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today.” He claimed Idaho teachers and students were “victims” of Idaho’s Constitution, which requires the state to maintain a “general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

Idaho’s public schools, guided by local school boards, have been responsible for properly educating Gem State children since statehood, even though they have been chronically underfunded in recent decades. Despite that fact, IFF and its cadre of legislators wreaked havoc on public education at all levels, from preschool to college, during the just-concluded legislative session.

Even though numerous studies have established the value of early childhood education, IFF was responsible for the Idaho’s failure to accept a federal grant of $6 million for that worthy purpose. Hoffman crowed about rejecting the grant, falsely claiming it would have led to the indoctrination of babies and toddlers.

Even though the Legislature has failed for many years to carry out its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund public schools, IFF sought to divert public monies to fund private schools and students this year. The legislation passed the House but was narrowly defeated in the Senate. It is likely the IFF will be back with a similar proposal next year.

IFF falsely accused Idaho public schools and universities of indoctrinating students, which resulted in chaos with education funding bills. A jury-rigged bill, purportedly prohibiting the teaching of an undefined racial theory, was approved so that the funding bills could proceed. As a result of the IFF-caused chaos, Idaho’s universities were undeservedly deprived of $2.5 million of needed funds.

IFF’s most egregious act during the legislative session was to raise its unfounded indoctrination claim. It produced no credible evidence to support the claim. The fact that local school boards oversee the operations of their schools would indicate the falsity of the charges. We will probably never know whether IFF actually believed that its claims were valid. That was not likely the point of making them. The point was to smear public education in hopes of discrediting and weakening our education system. That is a direct threat to the economic and social well-being of our wonderful state.

The time has come to dispense with IFF’s legislative zealots in next year’s primary and general elections. The future of Idaho depends on culling the legislative herd.

Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice. His previous columns can be found at JJCommonTater.com.

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