Idaho Senate rejects Echeverria appointment to charter commission
This story was originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on March 29, 2023.
In another rare move, the Senate has rejected Gov. Brad Little’s choice for the Idaho Public Charter School Commission.
In a 24-11 vote Wednesday evening, the Senate voted down Karen Echeverria, a longtime executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. Little had appointed Echeverria in August, subject to Senate confirmation.
That didn’t happen. Instead, lawmakers sided with the Senate Education Committee, which recommended turning down the appointment.
In leading the campaign against the appointment, Sen. Lori Den Hartog said she has “a lot of respect” for Echeverria. But Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said she wants to see a commission that fills a dual role of advocacy and regulation.
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“This is a difficult place we find ourselves in,” Den Hartog said. “The advocacy piece, in my experience, has fallen away.”
The charter school commission serves as the state’s primary authorizer of charter schools. Sixty of Idaho’s 72 charter schools fall under the commission’s purview.
Two senators sought to salvage Echeverria’s appointment.
Sen. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, a former charter commission member, said Echeverria would be effective in the statewide role.
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, noted that the ISBA represents charter boards in addition to elected school boards, and touted her expertise in school finance and education law. “I think she’s a very good fit for this commission.”
Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder admitted to some mixed feelings. The Boise Republican said he has known Echeverria for years, but he said he wanted to respect the committee process, and Senate Education’s 6-3 vote recommendation to reject the nomination.
It’s uncommon for the Senate to reject a gubernatorial appointment, and it also bucks recent history. Earlier this session, the Senate reconfirmed commission chair Alan Reed of Idaho Falls on a voice vote, with no serious debate.
The Echeverria vote was Little’s second setback on the Senate floor Wednesday. Hours earlier, senators overrode Little’s veto of a far-reaching property tax bill, which will now become law.
The vote also means Little will have to seek a new appointee.
Little’s office had no immediate comment Wednesday evening.
The Senate voted 24-11 to reject Karen Echeverria’s appointment to the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. Here’s the breakdown:
Yes: Ben Adams, R-Nampa; Kelly Anthon, R-Burley; Treg Bernt, R-Meridian; Carl Bjerke, R-Coeur d’Alene; Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton; Cindy Carlson, R-Riggins; Kevin Cook, R-Idaho Falls; Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian; Dan Foreman, R-Moscow; C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle; Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon; Phil Hart, R-Kellogg; Scott Herndon, R-Sagle; Todd Lakey, R-Nampa; Abby Lee, R-Fruitland; Brian Lenney, R-Nampa; Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls; Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton; Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg; Ben Toews, R-Coeur d’Alene; Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell; Steve Vick (substitute for Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden; Chuck Winder, R-Boise; Glenneda Zuiderveld, R-Twin Falls.
No: Bob Geddes (substitute for Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs); Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls; Rick Just, D-Boise; Ali Rabe, D-Boise; James Ruchti, D-Pocatello; Geoff Schroeder, R-Mountain Home; Carrie Semmelroth, D-Boise; Ron Taylor, D-Hailey; Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree; Jane Ward-Engelking, D-Boise; Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.
Hill reappointed to State Board
The Senate voted Wednesday to reappoint David Hill to the State Board of Education, over objections from conservative lawmakers. Hill has served on the State Board since 2014.
The debate over Hill’s appointment began weeks ago, when the Senate Education Committee sent the appointment to the floor with no recommendation (typically, the committee recommends either in favor or against appointment). The decision came after conservative committee members voiced concerns about Hill’s “complicity” in pandemic school closures, and a claim that Hill wouldn’t fulfill his five-year term on the board.
And Senate Education members repeated their concerns during Wednesday’s debate. Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, objected to Hill’s response to questions about the pandemic. Lenney said Hill told him he “wouldn’t have done one thing differently.”
Lenney also disagreed with Hill’s response to claims about the State Department of Education pushing critical race theory, social-emotional learning and radical gender theory curriculum on districts. According to Lenney, Hill said he didn’t know anything about the alleged issue.
Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, repeated similar concerns.
But other senators characterized Hill as an educated and well-respected member of the State Board.
Senate Education Chairman Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, said Hill may have felt “trapped” by the specific questioning from other senators about pandemic policies and curriculum.
After a brief debate, the Senate voted down Lenney’s motion to reject Hill’s appointment, before reappointing the longtime State Board members with a voice vote.