There were good reasons why some 75,000 Idahoans signed petitions last year to overturn three education-related laws enacted by the Legislature: the Luna Laws are bad education policy and bad fiscal policy. They impose top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates that tie the hands of local school boards, divert money from our already scarce classroom resources, and use that money for expensive laptop and online class schemes that will do nothing to improve student achievement.
These laws require the state to buy laptops for all high school students, whether or not they need or want them. They require high school students to take online classes the completion rates for which are very low compared to traditional classes in order to graduate. The business model for large, for-profit corporations offering these online classes is based on high student-teacher ratios, often packing 100 to 200 students in a single class. Not surprisingly, these out-of-state corporations have made generous campaign contributions to the people who are pushing these laws.
Second, these laws limit local control. State leaders have long criticized the federal government for dictating one-size-fits-all policies that do not fit the needs of Idaho. So why should we accept what Idahos politicians have imposed on our local school districts? Local school boards must be allowed to continue to make the decisions that are best for their communities, their teachers, and most of all, their students. Thats why school boards in Boise and Pocatello have decided unanimously to oppose the Luna laws.
Beyond the flawed provisions contained in these misguided laws, we must understand how they originated. They were proposed at a time when the Legislature was looking to further reduce expenses for our public schools. Tom Luna claimed that the economy demands these laws. In other words, it was a plan to do education on the cheap, further starving a system of public schools that was already on life support.
Idaho has ranked 50th in the nation in per pupil spending for the last two years, and in the bottom five for several more. As if that wasnt bad enough, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, Idaho slashed school budgets by 19 percent during the recession, the fourth-deepest cuts to schools in the nation. When the laws went through the Legislature, various Republican lawmakers saw through these schemes, noting the money wasnt there and that many teachers would lose their jobs as a consequence. Even the Chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted against the laws for these reasons. Proponents havent proposed or identified a single source of revenue to pay for the laws, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years.
This has resulted in more and more communities asking local taxpayers to pick up the tab for the Legislatures failure to adequately fund our schools. More than 80 districts around the state have passed supplemental levies this year, to a record high of $140 million. Projections for next year are a stunning $170 million.
There is much that we can do to improve the way our public schools educate our children. But the fact is, there is nothing in these laws that actually reforms how Idaho students are taught. These three laws were rammed through the Idaho Legislature last year by Superintendent Tom Luna, without the input of parents, teachers, school board members, and administrators.
Theres a better way to improve our schools. To make that possible, we need to begin by voting NO on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 on Nov. 6.
Mike Lanza and Maria Greeley are Boise parents and the chair and treasurer, respectively, of the Vote No on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 campaign.