State of the State: Little champions education in first address as governor

Listen to the entire State of the State address by Governor Brad Little

BOISE, Idaho — Idahoans heard from their new governor during Governor Brad Little’s first State of the State address on Monday, January 7.

“It is humbling to address you as Idaho’s 33rd Governor,” Governor Brad Little said. “I’m used to a slightly different vantage point during this speech. I was here more than 42 years ago as a legislative intern…I stand on the shoulders of great men and women who have mentored me along my way. Many are in this room today. Thank you for guidance and support.”

Before tackling the issues and budgetary measures in his first year in office, Little took time to applaud the work of his predecessor, former Governor Butch Otter.

“Governor Butch Otter led Idaho during a challenging time in our history, facing down the worst recession in 70 years,” Little said. “Now, Idaho is the fastest growing state in the country. Let us honor his legacy by keeping our budget balanced while investing in the future. Thank you for your service, Governor Otter.”

Keeping the state on an upward course remained the theme of Little’s remarks who said education and economic freedom were key to his vision of the Gem state.

Governor Brad Little addresses Idaho in his first State of the State address on Monday, January 7, 2019 | Image Courtesy: Idaho Public Television

“I stand here today not to reminisce about Idaho’s past, but to look to our future,” Little said. “This means making decisions through one lens: the lens of ensuring the best possible opportunities for us, our children and grandchildren to remain in Idaho and enjoy our unparalleled quality of life. Making decisions with a long-term perspective means staying focused on creating a regulatory and tax environment where Idahoans can get good-paying jobs. It means having world-class schools. It means delivering accessible and affordable healthcare .It means giving citizens a reason to be confident in state government, by making government responsive, transparent, and accountable.”

As Idaho enters the fifth year of its five-year spending plan for education, Little told legislators and the state he plans to do even more to make sure Idaho is taking care of its students by creating a task force to better champion advocates of Idaho’s kids.

“To amplify the voices of those on the front lines of education, I will create a Children’s Cabinet to advise me throughout my term on a variety of education issues.” Little said. “My Children’s Cabinet will consist of traditional education stakeholders, parents, and groups across our state dedicated to advocating for children.”

Little also said he plans to double funding for Idaho’s literacy program to $26 million.

“The school districts will decide the best ways to use the funds to raise reading scores among their students,” Little said. “They will choose from a variety of proven intervention methods such as full-day kindergarten, reading coaches, and summer reading programs. The variety of methods recognizes no one kid is the same and that Boise may not have the solution for what works in Bonners Ferry or Blackfoot.”

In bolstering Idaho’s literacy programs, Little added, students in the Gem state will find greater equality in their opportunities and education.

“Our goal must be to ensure all kids begin at the same starting line in life,” Little said. “By the third grade, our students must learn to read so they can read to learn.”

Under Little’s proposed budget, teachers also receive a financial boost. After campaigning on a promise to raise starting teacher pay, Little said he intends to fulfill that promise by increasing starting teacher pay to $40,000.

“As we reward our educators we expect school districts to continue working with us on reporting measurements that Idahoans need to validate increased education investments,” Little said.

Health care also made an appearance in Little’s remarks as the Idaho legislature readies itself to tackle the voter-approved initiative to expand Medicaid in Idaho. Little reemphasized his commitment to honor the will of the people in implementing the measure.

“On election day over 60% of voters approved Medicaid expansion. For months I made it clear I would honor the will of the people,”  Little said. “I intend to work with you to implement Medicaid expansion using an Idaho approach.”

However, Little also emphasized the state needs to work to create many pathways for people in the healthcare coverage gap to transition to private coverage and tackle health care costs.

“The fact is we have a proven track record of delivering Idaho solutions on health care,” Little said. “When Idaho opted for a state-run health insurance exchange, we created an Idaho solution instead of adopting a federal one-size-fits-all mandate…I will fight for state flexibility and state control to develop Idaho solutions for Idaho families.”

Looking ahead, Little also touched on agricultural stability, Idaho’s approach to criminal justice amid an overcrowded inmate population and repealing the grocery tax, “once and for all.”

“Idaho is ready to lead,” Little said. “My friends, if we create an environment that brings about economic prosperity, if we continue to invest and modernize education, if we do what we can to make healthcare accessible and affordable, if we invest in our infrastructure, if we protect our natural resources, and if we assure citizen confidence in government, we will keep our best and brightest here in Idaho.”