A sellout Boise City Club crowd witnessed a sharp exchange Tuesday afternoon between Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Rep. Brian Cronin over Lunas 2011 reform package.
Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to retain what Luna calls Students Come First and opponents, led by Idahos teachers union, dismiss as the Luna Laws.
The Republican Luna forcefully defended his three laws before what passes for a liberal crowd in Idaho, the centrist City Club, which drew 450 people to the Grove Hotel.
We cannot go backwards, Luna said.
The reforms were necessary not because we have bad schools, we have good schools, Luna said. The question is: Is good good enough?
Luna said Idaho is now on a path to fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide uniform education, rather than having some students enjoy better opportunity in rich school districts simply because of their ZIP code.
Luna called the vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 by far the most important choice in education that many of us will make in our lifetime.
A yes vote will affirm the three laws, which phase out teacher tenure and restrict collective bargaining to wages and benefits; give bonuses to about 80 percent of K-12 teachers; and provide laptops and mandate online classes in high school.
Cronin, a Boise Democrat who is retiring from the Legislature after the election, attacked the bills on three chief counts.
He said Lunas failure to consult teachers in drafting his bills made for flawed legislation and has badly hurt teacher morale, prompting a 60 percent increase in teachers leaving the profession. It excluded the experts, said Cronin, who is working for a consulting company helping fight the laws.
Second, Cronin called reform a misnomer, saying Luna and his ally, GOP Gov. Butch Otter, used the laws to institutionalize less funding for schools that already rank No. 50 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in spending per pupil.
It was a plan to do education on the cheap, Cronin said, adding that local property taxpayers are now making up the difference by passing a record $140 million in supplemental school levies.
Third, Cronin said the laws are state power grab, forcing Idahos school districts to follow the states prescription for technology.
-- For a full account of the debate, see Wednesdays Idaho Statesman