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Why The State Superintendent Race Outcome Matters In Idaho

Campaign photo

The position of Idaho state superintendent of public instruction rarely makes the holder a household name. But it's an office that's expected to play a key role in Idaho over the next several years.

And the race proved to be the squeaker in the statewide returns from Tuesday’s election.

Republican Sherri Ybarra’s margin of victory was just over 1 percent. She’s currently the curriculum director in the Mountain Home district. Ybarra said her first step will be getting a crash course from outgoing state schools chief, Tom Luna.

She takes over during a “critical period” for school reform. That's according to Jerry Evans, a Republican who held the position for 16 years in the '80s and '90s. He said the governor is preparing to roll out a series of changes to public schools and will need Ybarra's help.

“She really has to know what she's talking about in the educational community and has to enlist a certain amount of support but she also has to convey that to those who ultimately provide the funding,” Evans said.

Evans, who did not take sides in the superintendent of public instruction race, said Idaho has some of the lowest per-pupil spending in the country.

Voters did not take kindly to a set of reforms Ybarra's predecessor implemented. In 2012, they threw out the so-called “Luna Laws” at the ballot box.

Ybarra will also step into the job during the transition to a new statewide computerized test based on the Common Core standards.

Ybarra beat out Democratic candidate Jana Jones, who once worked under Evans. Jones was also narrowly defeated by Luna in 2006.

Jones proved to be a tough contender for Ybarra, a first-time politician whose campaign suffered from a series of missteps, including plagiarism and questions about some of her credentials.

Education was a central theme in the gubernatorial race as well. Governor Butch Otter's Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff attacked the governor for putting money into tax relief and state reserves instead of into education.