Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin agreed on one thing in their debate Tuesday on Propositions 1, 2 and 3: The stakes are huge.
Luna called the Nov. 6 vote to affirm his reform laws by far the most important choice on education that many of us will make in our lifetime.
Rejecting the laws would mean violating the constitutional requirement for uniform and thorough schools, because it would mean continued technological inequity, Luna said.
Ive visited hundreds of schools and thousands of classrooms, and we arent offering a uniform system of public education in Idaho, said Luna.
Where children live determines their opportunities, not their abilities, not their desires. Sure, in Sun Valley or in a private school or in many schools here in the Treasure Valley, you see some impressive things going on with technology. But folks, thats not the reality in most of Idaho.
Cronin, D-Boise, said the 2011 laws dont deserve to be called reform and represent a half-baked scheme by Luna and his fellow Republicans who used the recession as an excuse to gut school funding.
They turned a temporary fiscal crisis into permanent, long-term underfunding, Cronin said. Idaho cut K-12 spending more than all but three states during the downturn and ranks 50th in per-pupil spending among the states and District of Columbia.
Cronin called a mandate for laptops for every high-schooler an entitlement that, like a bonus plan for 80 percent of teachers, has no funding source. Its a shell game. Its a bait-and-switch con, he said.
The forum at the Boise City Club drew a sellout crowd of 450, which was admonished by moderator Jim Weatherby to treat both speakers with respect and refrain from applause or other signs or approval or disapproval.
The crowd cooperated, but the principals engaged in whispered recriminations.
In his 12-minute opening, Luna said reform was necessary because Idaho students arent keeping up. Although 92 percent graduate, only 38 percent begin a second year of college.
A diploma should mean something, Luna said.
Laptops are vital, he said. They become the textbook for every classroom, the math calculator, the research tool, the word processor for English. Teachers and students will no longer have to wait their turn for the computer lab because every classroom is a computer lab, Luna said.
Two other changes also are vital, he said: teacher bonuses to reward excellence, and cutting back the power of unions by eliminating tenure and limiting collective bargaining to pay and benefits.
In Cronins opening 12 minutes, he blasted Luna for violating every principle of lawmaking in drafting the laws during a two-month crush before the 2011 Legislature without consulting teachers.
It excluded the experts, the people who will carry out the laws and be most impacted by them, he said.
Cronin noted that the number of Idaho teachers leaving the profession has jumped from about 700 in 2010 to about 1,900 in 2012. He called Lunas explanation some teachers may have left to join spouses who landed jobs in other states stunningly illogical.
News flash: People dont leave jobs or their professions in the middle of a severe economic downturn unless their working conditions have become so deplorable and intolerable; or their faith in management has been so shaken theyd rather risk unemployment or find a new career when jobs are scarce; or they pick up stakes and move to a place where they can better support their families, Cronin said.
Luna said his explanation was misconstrued by the media and said personal reasons are the chief cause cited by departing teachers. Also, he said, new teacher applications are up 25 percent.
Cronin also said voters are backfilling budgets to keep classroom sizes down by approving a record $140 million in emergency and supplemental levies.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438Twitter: @IDS_politics