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Ybarra asking voters to stick with her for a third term as state superintendent

East Idaho Elects

IDAHO FALLS – As Sherri Ybarra seeks a third term for state superintendent, reading proficiency for Idaho’s students is her primary focus.

“As a former third-grade teacher, that’s very near and dear to my heart,” Ybarra tells EastIdahoNews.com.

Better parental involvement in a child’s education is another focus of her re-election campaign along with attracting and retaining teachers, which has been an ongoing issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ybarra, the Republican incumbent from Mountain Home, is one of four candidates vying for the position. Her opponents are Republican Branden Durst, a former state lawmaker from Boise; Republican Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, a former member of the state Board of Education; and Democrat Terry Gilbert, a former Idaho Education Association president.

RELATED | Debbie Critchfield shares why she’s running for state superintendent

One of the things Ybarra is most proud of in the last four years is Idaho’s improved educational achievement ranking from 31st in the nation to 17th.

“We are also fifth in the nation for (being) college and career ready and No. 1 in the nation for offering college credits to our students while they’re still in high school, which saves our families hundreds of thousands of dollars as their children begin to make decisions about college or careers,” Ybarra says.

Ybarra says voters were fed up with being last in everything when she first ran eight years ago, and so she’s pleased to see the turnaround.

She’s also proud of the transformation of Idaho’s educational culture, which she says is now less of a compliance agency and more focused on local control and customer service.

She’s asking Idaho voters to “stay with me while I take you to the top 10 in the nation.”

Ybarra was first elected state superintendent in 2014. Prior to public office, she worked for nearly two decades as a classroom teacher. She got her start as a third-grade teacher and later went on to serve as a federal programs director, vice principal and principal in Idaho elementary and junior high schools. She was named the Mountain Home School District’s “Outstanding Educator” twice.

Ybarra cites the shutdown of Idaho’s schools at the onset of the pandemic as a huge mistake, which prompted the creation of House Bill 175 in 2021. The bill ensures students have access to in-person instruction and a thorough education to the greatest extent possible even during an emergency. The bill was signed into law in April 2021.

“I know that we made the right decision (with House Bill 175) because a couple of weeks ago, I sat around a table with some other officials to hear how we did during the pandemic. There’s a third party looking at our data, and I’m proud to say while we did have some gaps in our achievement, we did not see the slide backs that the rest of the nation saw,” says Ybarra.

Ybarra says one of the negative effects of the 2020 shutdown is that 60% of incoming kindergarten students are not ready for school, which she cited in her budget pitch to the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee in January. Her plan included more than $2.2 billion of state tax money to be spent on K-12, with $39.3 million to be used for an optional all-day kindergarten program to make up for the learning loss.

RELATED | Ybarra makes her budget pitch — and discusses pandemic learning loss

Although there are already districts throughout the state offering all-day kindergarten, she wants to make sure it’s an option for every district.

“That’s a parent’s choice, but I want to make sure those resources are available,” she says.

Ybarra also cites the sacrifice teachers made during the pandemic in having to quickly transition from offering in-person education to offering online education. For elementary students, Ybarra says online learning proved to be not as effective.

Ybarra applauds the efforts of teachers making every effort to reach students, but she says it’s put a strain on the workforce.

“We are seeing that they are tired. They are having to do double duty. They are flipping back and forth between showing up in person and offering classes online or doing a little of both … and we need to continue to make sure that we show our support and lift them up so that they know we are behind them,” Ybarra explains.

The biggest chunk of Ybarra’s budget request — $67.7 million — was for salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators and staff.

RELATED | Here’s who has filed to run for state offices this election

The primary election will be held on May 17. The general election is on Nov. 8.

WATCH THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION WITH YBARRA IN THE VIDEO ABOVE.

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