Pam Johnsen, Mia Miller and Stefanie Holcomb watched with surprise as their new education-focused political action committee attracted hundreds of members within months.
The issues that boiled over during the pandemic resonated with other parents, the women found.
The Blaine County trio co-founded Push Back Idaho, a political action committee aimed at influencing K-12 education policy. The organization started with 12 members in 2021 and has grown to over 200 members in less than a year.
The women founded the organization on constitutional values of limited rights and natural law after following debates over mask policies, school closures and curricula, Miller said. They believed that parents’ concerns were not taken seriously.
“We focused on education because that was where people were most concerned,” Johnsen said. “COVID was still very much around, due to masks and school closures, a lot was uncovered not just across the country, but in Idaho and Blaine County.”
Johnsen is referring to the upsurge in backlash against school curricula that has occurred during the pandemic. As schools went online, parents who were suddenly part of their child’s learning worried about the alleged teaching of ‘liberal indoctrination’, including critical race theory. (CRT), a framework used in law schools to examine and recognize institutional racism and social racism. Emotional Learning (SEL), which teaches students emotional and interpersonal skills.
“Parents were listening, watching their homework, watching the classroom,” Miller said. “They were able to see what’s on the wall, see links to sites they don’t want their kids to see. They were more involved. »
The founders of Push Back Idaho say they have spent much of the past year learning about these controversial topics and watching the debates unfold across the country. They attribute the lack of qualifications and weak critical thinking skills in young adults to the teaching of CRT, SEL and other subjects outside of basic standards.
“We hear from parents saying, ‘my child is having something called SEL, but can’t do times tables,'” Johnsen said. “People are not happy with the displacement of basic education with the inclusion of children in something that parents did not ask for.”
The solution, say the women, is school choice.
“School choice. His time has come. The subject doesn’t go away,” Johnsen said.
Why the choice of school
School choice allows parents to decide which K-12 option is best for their child. This often includes pressure to expand schooling options beyond traditional public schools and redirect public education funds to follow the child. The theory, according to Johnsen, is that when schools compete for students and resources, they will improve or respond to the wishes of parents.
According to Miller and Johnsen, school choice would allow parents to choose the “worldviews” and “civic virtues” their children learn in school, while maintaining the same core subject as all other schools. . They argue that this would lead to greater equality in education, since alternative schooling options would become more normalized and affordable.
Critics of the school choice movement argue that embezzlement would weaken public schools, which are often the only options available to many students due to charter lottery systems, household income and location.
Some critics also argue that forcing schools to compete on the basis of a value system would create a dynamic in which all schools would move towards the values of the dominant population, while minorities would be left behind.
How Push Back Idaho grows back
As a PAC, Push Back Idaho focuses on influencing legislation and lawmakers.
The organization has advocated for bills in the Legislative Assembly, including HB699 Hope and Opportunity Scholarship which would have allowed families to use public funds for tuition and private school fees. House Education Committee killed the bill earlier this year with an 8-7 vote.
“People in the Legislative Assembly were against it because it would lead to embezzlement,” Johnsen said.
But the co-founders have seen at least one win this legislative session. They expressed their support for SB1255, which Governor Brad Little signed into law earlier this year. The bill allocated $50 million for “Empowering Parents” grants, which are available to help families of public and private school children pay for resources outside the classroom.
Push Back Idaho has also endorsed candidates for the May 17 primaries.
“Our endorsements are for applicants who strongly support our school choice flavor,” Johnsen said. “We support candidates who believe strongly in education, parental rights, freedom of choice and who don’t want to be overly regulated by the government.”
The organization endorsed Priscilla Giddings for lieutenant governor and Dorothy Moon for secretary of state — Republicans who wooed the party’s hardliners during the election and lost.
But Push Back Idaho also endorsed GOP Superintendent Debbie Critchfield’s primary winner over school’s choice attorney Branden Durst. While both candidates support school choice, parental rights and the fight against CRT, Durst’s platform may be more closely aligned with Push Back Idaho’s platforms. Johnsen and Miller said Critchfield was approved because of her experience and willingness to make changes to school choice.
To look forward
In the upcoming term and school year, Push Back Idaho hopes to continue to influence education policy in Blaine County and at the Statehouse. The founders also hope to receive more support from the community through memberships and donations.
“We are happy that baby steps have been taken,” Johnsen said. “But the pressure for school choice is a ground swell. It is not finished yet. »
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