Ybarra faces hurdles in schools chief race

Sherri Ybarra

BOISE (AP) — After securing a surprise victory in Idaho’s Republican primary, Sherri Ybarra —who proudly defined herself as a “non-politician”— now moves up to face Democratic challenger and political veteran Jana Jones in the race for Idaho’s top education post.

Unlike the three GOP newcomers Ybarra competed against in the May primary, Jones comes with statewide name recognition and already has significantly outraised and outspent her Republican contender.

Ybarra, meanwhile, raised just under $3,000 in the primary election, mostly from friends and family from Mountain Home where she works a curriculum director for the school district, according to campaign disclosure forms.

The GOP candidate is also still considered relatively unknown. During a GOP unity rally last week, outgoing Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna threw his support behind Ybarra, but not before adding she is “someone we are all going to spend some time getting to know.”

Jones, an educator from Idaho Falls, narrowly lost to Luna in 2006 while running for state superintendent by just 11,000 votes out of the nearly 443,200 votes cast. Back then, Jones was chief deputy to state superintendent Marilyn Howard, the last Democrat to hold a statewide office in Idaho.

Jones has roughly $18,000 on hand after raising more than $52,400 since Jan. 1, according to her latest campaign disclosure forms. It’s more than any of the GOP candidates were able to raise and most of it came from individual donors from across the state.

While Jones is the more seasoned candidate, the two share a strong support of the 20 recommendations designed to reform Idaho’s education system. They have both voiced support for Idaho Common Core, the state’s latest education standards that set the bar on what students should learn in English and math. And both have raised concerns over the test that is based off the Common Core standards.

All this means that unlike prior superintendent candidates, whoever wins the general election will not have to present a new blueprint on how to improve Idaho’s schools, said state Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and co-chair of the state’s budget committee.

“When they get in a debate, I don’t know what they’ll disagree on,” she said.

Instead, what differentiates the candidates is political experience, Bell said. Ybarra may be welcome in a Republican Legislature but she will face a steep learning curve understanding how to produce an education budget that competes with the governor’s while also lobbying lawmakers to support education policies, oversee a substantially larger staff and serve on the Idaho Land Board, which manages state lands to receive the maximum returns possible for public schools.

Jones, on the hand, will face opposition against a Republican-dominated voting base, said Jerry Evans, a Republican who served as the state’s superintendent for 16 years until 1994. But Jones’ education background could serve as an advantage.

“Kids don’t go to school with Ds and Rs on their foreheads,” Evans said. “These are parents voting and they all want the same thing, the best for their children. But when you compare these two candidates, you have one with minority party experience and the other with majority party inexperience.”

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