Idaho governor signs education law but warns against reliance on ‘anecdotes and innuendo’

This story originally published April 29, 2021, at

Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday signed into law the controversial House Bill 377, dealing with school nondiscrimination and targeting critical race theory.

The new law bans school spending that in some way forces students to “adopt” or “adhere to” the belief that an individual is responsible for actions committed by members of their race or identity group in the past. It also bars schools from teaching that one identity group is superior, a teaching Republican lawmakers have attributed to critical race theory and liberal “indoctrination” they fear is occurring in Idaho public schools.

Little questioned the Legislature’s narrative of “widespread, systemic indoctrination in Idaho classrooms” that fueled the bill and said the legislative process has sent “the wrong message” to stakeholders.

“We must be focused on facts and data, not anecdotes and innuendo,” Little wrote in a letter transmitted to House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

The bill was introduced after House Republicans killed budgets funding Idaho colleges and universities and K-12 teacher salaries, over concerns that educators are teaching about social justice and critical race theory. Some legislators said they would not approve a teacher salary budget without “intent language” banning such teachings. Consequently, many moderate Republicans argued HB 377 could be the linchpin to moving education budgets forward, which have stalled the legislative session — now third-longest in state history.

“The process that produced this legislation over the last few weeks sends the wrong message to Idaho teachers, parents and students. It has been nothing short of a distraction from meeting our constitutional and moral obligations to public education in Idaho,” Little wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union joined Idaho students in testifying against the bill, warning it would have a chilling effect on classroom discussions about race’s role in U.S. history. The bill also drew opposition from several lobbying groups: Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Education Association and the Idaho School Boards Association.

As the Statehouse debate over schools and social justice has intensified this month, the State Board of Education has remained neutral on the bill, though it has noted, like Little, that school districts and colleges already have processes in place to field curriculum complaints.

Idaho Education News has so far been unable to verify the validity of lawmakers’ evidence of forced indoctrination in public schools.

“The claim that there is widespread, systemic indoctrination occurring in Idaho classrooms is a serious allegation. Most worryingly, it undermines popular support for public education in Idaho,” Little wrote.

Predecessor social justice bill likely dead

House Bill 364, the “Protecting Critical Thinking in Higher Education Act,” is likely dead for the session.

The bill, introduced before HB 377, was another in a string of bills targeting progressive-slanted education that came out of the failed education budget votes. Now that HB 377 is passed, the earlier proposal is unlikely to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, told EdNews by email Wednesday. Crabtree is the committee’s vice chairman.

The bill would have required public colleges and universities to post an annual report on their websites outlining their compliance with new free speech codes. Students could have sued their colleges and university staff over alleged violations for a minimum of $5,000.

It passed the House 56-12 earlier this month on nearly a party-line vote.