Community college debate heats up ahead of ballot vote

IDAHO FALLS — Both opponents and advocates gathered Monday night in the Colonial Theater in downtown Idaho Falls for a live televised and radio broadcast debate, just eight days ahead of a planned vote on transitioning Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college.

The panel in favor of the community college consisted of local business leaders Park Price and Mario Hernandez, along with Idaho State Senator Dean Mortimer. Opposing the creation of a community college taxing district were former Idaho Falls city councilman Larry Lyon, Idaho Representative Tom Loertscher, and Bonneville County GOP Chair and attorney Mark Fuller.

Both sides argued the need for education, but differed on how southeast Idaho should approach those educational options.

“K-12 is what K-8 used to be,” Senator Dean Mortimer (R-Idaho Falls), a proponent of the proposal, said. “Students can’t stop when they graduate from high school. They must go on in order to meet the demand in the work force and in order to meet the educational needs of our workforce […] Advanced education is a necessity.”

Opponents of the proposal rebutted saying the options already available to southeast Idaho residents fill that need.

“When I look at the different options that are available […] we have half a dozen of them right here, close.” Larry Lyon, an opponent of the proposed taxing district, said. “From BYU-I, to ISU, to the ISU and U of I extensions, Stevens-Henager College to EITC and now with technology, every single online college in country is only a few mouse clicks away.”

According to Next Steps Idaho, the state of Idaho is home to four 2-year colleges, including EITC.

The vote on the new taxing district proposal is Tuesday, May 16. Early voting is available through Friday, May 12.

The debate can be heard below. (Audio is edited for technical errors. A full video/audio of the debate will be added when it becomes available.)