The slogans are snappy, simple and grouped in threes.
Electorate demands it. Economy requires it. Students deserve it.
Bad for children. Bad for teachers. Bad for Idaho.
Those who embrace the first set of sentiments support the Students Come First laws spearheaded by schools Superintendent Tom Luna and passed by the Legislature in 2011.
Those whose opinion of the new education laws might be capsulized as Bad, bad, bad aim to repeal all three and successfully gathered about 75,000 signatures to put the issues on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot. Prevailing no votes would kill the laws; yes votes would keep them in place.
Advocates for both sides are passionate, organized and determined to bring in money and supporters to ensure the electoral outcome they desire. At stake, both sides say, is Idaho students ability to learn and succeed up to their potential.
The yes and no campaigns wont have to file pre-election finance statements until early October, and both declined to reveal donations so far. But managers on each side say they expect to bring in $1 million or more, with much of it coming from national organizations.
Radio advertisements already are plying the airwaves, with television spots anticipated as more money rolls in. Last week the Vote No Props 1, 2, 3 campaign posted ad videos on YouTube.
The campaign against what opponents call the Luna laws is mining social media to great effect, Vote No communications coordinator Morgan Hill said.
Were getting thousands of people plugging into Facebook and Twitter, plugging into us online, Hill said. Were getting quite a few people who are donating.
By Friday evening, the Vote No campaign had more than 4,000 Facebook followers. Yes for Idaho Education had 46.
We havent really been focused on (social media) yet, said Yes campaign manager Ken Burgess. Well be ramping it up shortly.
Burgess cited a grass-roots support system across the state and noted a direct-mail campaign with fund-raising pleas signed by Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson that went to more than 6,000 individuals and businesses this month.
We need your help to keep our bold and innovative reforms on track for our childrens future, the letter says, seeking donations of $25 to $250 or more.
DIVIDED OVER TECHNOLOGY
The Students Come First laws stripped many of Idaho teachers collective bargaining rights, established a pay-for-performance bonus system for teachers and imposed 21st century technology measures to phase in laptop computers for all high school students and require future graduates to earn at least two course credits online.
Both sides make the technology piece central to their arguments but from opposite perspectives.
Wendy Horman of Idaho Falls, a longtime school board member who co-chairs the Yes campaign, said the technology bill addresses the need to get all Idaho students, regardless of where they live or what their parents can afford, adept with technology that is prevalent in higher education and the workforce.
To the Idaho Education Association and Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, which led the effort to get the repeals on the ballot, the laptop push is a wrong-headed effort to funnel money into devices when those funds would be better spent on making sure there are enough teachers and workable class sizes to give students the help they need.
We do not believe the best way to try to teach kids is to replace a teacher with a computer and a requirement, said Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who chairs the No campaign and co-founded Idaho Parents and Teachers Together.
Where theres a skill gap is in the intangibles the ability to think things through and problem solving, said outgoing District 19 Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, who vehemently opposed the Students Come First package in the Legislature. Those are things that cant be taught by a laptop.
Kids today dont really struggle with technology, Cronin added.
Theres a huge equity piece in this for me, countered Horman, a mother of five and former president of the Idaho School Boards Association. You and I both know that the kids who can afford the technology already have it in their pocket.
WHOS ON WHICH SIDE?
The statewide teachers union, Idaho Education Association, has staunchly opposed the new laws since Luna proposed them early in the 2011 legislative session. The State Board of Education reiterated its support for the laws this month.
But besides those two groups and the organizations formed specifically to work for and against the ballot measures Idaho education and business groups have yet to publicly pick a side. Campaign insiders on both sides said they dont expect that to change.
Cronin said a lot of business people are supporting the No campaign, but they dont necessarily want to put their business name on the line.
And Yes advocate Burgess said he believes numerous teachers support the new laws, but theyre afraid to say anything publicly.
Idaho first lady Lori Otter says she knows at least one local teacher who wanted to back the Yes campaign and suspects there are many more.
Otter, who spent 12 years as a teacher and coach in Idaho schools before she married the governor six years ago, said she never joined a union while she was teaching, but I felt pressure every year.
An avid spokeswoman for keeping the Students Come First laws, Otter said her support comes from her love for her profession, not loyalty to the administration.
Some people think the only reason Im for this is for my husband and Luna, but if you know me at all you know thats not how I operate, she said. I think in the long run its protecting the profession.
Right now teachers kind of feel that theyve been beat up on, she said, but I think once teachers understand a good change can help them work smarter, not harder, theyll come around.
IEA President Penni Cyr called allegations of union pressure on teachers almost hilarious. We dont do that. She said the union does invite every teacher to join every year, but its an invitation. This is a Right to Work state.
Cyr said teachers overwhelmingly oppose the trio of laws but are making the best of it. They go in there and they make it good for the kids. Thats what they do. But theyre committed to voting no on these laws.
IMPACT ON TEACHERS
Spending the past year under the new laws reinforced teachers opposition, Cyr said. Class sizes have gone up in many districts, teachers and parents are forced to pay for school supplies districts cant afford to provide, and an unprecedented 1,300 teachers left the state last year, she said.
Budget cuts that affect teachers jobs are local school board decisions born of the economic downturn, not Students Come First, State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said.
State revenues have declined, and therefore the state had to send less funding to public schools than in years past, she said.
Luna and other proponents say the laws are good for teachers because they allow for merit pay and provide technology that can make teachers jobs easier and more effective.
Nearly $39 million has been set aside to reward teachers this fall for their work last year. The State Department of Education estimates 85 percent of all Idaho teachers will receive some type of bonus, with an average amount of $2,000.
Bonuses for teachers is money that was originally appropriated for salaries, Cyr said. If youre talking about reducing salaries to give bonuses, thats kind of interesting.
The state shifted about $14 million from school salary funding in fiscal 2012 to pay for some of the initial reforms, McGrath said, but legislation passed earlier this year makes sure no further such shifts will be made.
Cyr noted that distribution of bonus money to reward teachers for last years success is not scheduled until mid-November after the election. If Proposition 2, which deals with pay for performance, is defeated, that money would go elsewhere.
All three laws are fully funded for this budget year, McGrath said. If they are repealed, the state would not have legal authority to distribute any of that money as designated by defunct laws.
This funding would go into the Public Education Stabilization Fund until the Idaho Legislature could address it in January 2013, she said.
One controversial aspect of the new education laws eliminates multi-year teacher contracts and limits collective bargaining to issues of salary and benefits.
This returns control to locally elected school boards that were elected to make decisions but were often bound by agreements made by board members 20 years ago, Horman said.
But Cronin said the changes to collective bargaining rights hurt students by silencing teachers.
People in Idaho know teachers in many respects are childrens best advocates, he said. When we take away their voices on such issues as classroom size and scheduling, that is not good for students.
Bonneville School Board member Horman said teachers can still talk to district leaders as colleagues, which can more effectively communicate viewpoints than talks at the bargaining table.
Cronin said Students Come First erodes local control by forcing one-size-fits-all measures, such as laptops and online course requirements, on all districts rather than leaving it up to individual school boards.
He and Cyr said theyre all for pursuing improvements to Idahos school system, but they want to get rid of this package of laws and start from scratch. They say a more collaborative approach is needed that brings in teachers, parents and others to identify the objectives as well as the solutions.
I think we havent really identified what problem or problems were trying to solve, Cronin said. Instead, weve developed a fiscal crisis plan under the assumption that theres no will in this state to make the necessary investment in education.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447