As Idaho lawmakers prepare to convene in January, questions loom about what comes next for education reform, after voters rejected the states Students Come First laws.
Will the Legislature follow the suggestion of Gov. Butch Otter and others to try to salvage some of the laws more popular ideas?
What will become of the more than $22 million set aside for implementation this year, then placed in limbo after the repeal vote Nov. 6?
As with most aspects of the short-lived overhaul that the Idaho Legislature approved in early 2011, opinions vary.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde say there likely will be an effort to divert Students Come First funds for other purposes. Leaders of the drive to repeal the laws say its essential to give that money to local school districts.
Theres the hope and theres my expectation that we find the way to keep these dollars in K-12 education, Luna said at the State Board of Education meeting Thursday in Coeur dAlene. But theres also talk that since these laws were overturned and the people spoke (we should) take this money and use it for personal property tax relief.
Mike Lanza and Maria Greeley, co-chairs of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, which campaigned to repeal the education laws, said it would cripple local school districts to reallocate funds for Students Come First initiatives, such as increased classroom technology. Districts budgeted for that change and began implementing it this school year.
The rejection of the Luna laws did not create a budget crisis for our schools, but the Legislature would if it withholds the money they need to pay employees and bills, Greeley and Lanza said.
Goedde said opponents to the laws made no friends in the Legislature, and arguments to spend the money on things other than education may be difficult to counter.
Goedde criticized what he called less-than-honest statements from foes, including contentions that the three education laws sacrificed local control and funded laptops at the expense of teachers salaries.
Suggesting that students could not take care of laptops is another, (since) it has been proven, where laptops have been deployed, that teachers damage rates were higher than their students, he said.
By voting down the three propositions, Idahoans got rid of laws that greatly reduced the scope of teacher contract negotiations, established pay for performance, called for two online credits for high school graduation, and would have distributed laptops to all high school students over several years.
The laws drew passionate opposition from teachers and others as soon as Luna introduced them in the 2011 legislative session. .
GO FAST OR GO SLOW?
Otter, a leading advocate for the propositions, is expected to announce probably at his State of the State speech a broad-based task force to study education reform issues. Opponents of the laws endorse that approach and say they plan to participate. But they disagree with Otters intention, announced Dec. 5, to advocate restoring some portions of the multifaceted laws.
Any attempt to resurrect these policies would demonstrate an extreme disregard for the will of voters, and we will not stand by quietly and accept it, Lanza and Greeley said.
Ken Burgess, who managed the campaign to keep the three education laws, said it makes sense to revive elements of the laws that have widespread support, such as providing state funding for high school students to earn college credit. Much of the laws focus on boosting classroom technology also would be popular, once separated from the controversial laptop requirement, he said.
There were a lot of elements in those bills that are very valuable, even if you separate out the more controversial parts, he said. There are very good things that could and should be brought back into play just to keep the disruption to a minimum.
Otter said a new poll results of which have not been released indicates that Idahoans still support some aspects of the overhaul.
Lanza countered: We had the ultimate poll. It was done Nov. 6 and we all know what the results are.
He said rethinking Idaho education should start anew at ground zero, and that process should take longer than this winters legislative session. Idaho Education President Penni Cyr, whose organization strongly opposed the three propositions, agreed.
We dont think anything should be rushed through this Legislature, Cyr said. This needs to slow down.
Task force recommendations should be research-based, Cyr said, documenting needs before devising effective solutions.
Lanza and Greeley envision a task force that would hold public meetings across the state and issue recommendations by the end of 2013, in time for the 2014 Legislature. And they urged the governor to ask teachers and administrators to help select panel members: We hope he realizes that the public would be distrustful of appointees who were merely political sycophants closely tied to the Luna laws.
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian declined to comment on details of the task force. We dont want to pre-empt our own speech, he said, but were going to get everybody to the table.
Lanza said his group has had many conversations with people on all sides, including business groups and the governors office. It has not talked to Luna, although after the election Lanza said that was among the plans.
Luna, too, said after the defeat that he would press for a collaborative, transparent process that included diverse voices. His spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said Luna has been busy talking with stakeholders, and I think the only organizations that he has not yet met with are the Idaho PTA and the Idaho Education Association/Vote No group.
The department has reached out to both of these organizations, McGrath said. It has just been a matter of schedules and timing.
The largest collaborative gathering so far, organized by Gooding School District Superintendent Heather Williams, was held at Boise State University a few weeks ago. Parents, teachers, administrators, business people and government representatives were there, Greeley said.
The energy and commitment at that meeting bode well for the process in the coming months, she said.
Were very encouraged by both the commitment of a lot of frankly influential people and the caliber of ideas that they are bringing to the table, Lanza said.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447