Gov. Butch Otter set the stage for a new-and-improved process for education reform in his State of the State address last week. But theres something that he didnt mention: Tom Lunas name the person who is supposed to be the guiding light for public education in Idaho.
The governor talked about almost everything related to public schools, including funding and his plans to create a collaborative process to take on education reform. There was no talk from the governor about Luna being any kind of a point man in the discussions.
Politically, the ommission was wise given the beating voters gave Nov. 6 to the Luna-backed Students Come First proposals. The superintendent of public instruction, of course, has a seat on the 30-member task force that Otter appointed. But Otter is asking the State Board of Education not Luna to facilitate the discussions.
Otter, who burned some of his own political capital with his aggressive support of the three failed propositions, cannot be blamed for wanting a fresh start on education reform. Given the emotion wrapped up in the debate last fall, its good that hes setting a different tone and asking the Legislature to take a year to work on the issue. His task force has a lot of work to do.
Luna was criticized, and rightly so, for failing to discuss his reform ideas during his 2010 re-election campaign and throwing it in the face of Idahoans soon after securing four more years in office. Education professionals, teachers and the Idaho Education Association among others were angry about not having a say in Lunas reform plans passed by the 2011 Legislature. Voters decisively came down on the side of the educators.
Otter isnt repeating the 2011 mistake. The task force he appointed includes teachers, union members, business leaders and educators. More parents would have broadened the panels perspective, but the framework is in place for the kind of constructive dialogue that people wanted all along.
Otter appropriately outlined the goal. Its to improve efficiency, effectiveness, transparancy and accountability into our education system, he said.
There was no electoral mandate for the changes we proposed on Nov. 6, he said. But I also heard no clarion call for the status quo.
Judging by the heavy turnout last November, Idahoans will be watching the task forces process closely. The panel reflects a range of expertise and interests, and reaching a consensus on a reform package will be challenging. But looking at the diversity of the panel, theres reason to be optimistic about the prospects of meaningful education reform.
This collaboration should have occurred two years ago, but theres no sense crying over the past. What counts is what the task force does from here, and its off to a good start.
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