Idaho schools chief Luna admits to missteps in education reform plan

The drive for Students Come First lacked the transparency of Otter’s education task force.

broberts@idahostatesman.comSeptember 10, 2013 

Nearly a year after voters trounced Tom Luna’s Students Come First proposals in a referendum, the state schools superintendent acknowledged he did not do enough to make the plan transparent or to involve Idahoans.

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Nearly a year after voters trounced Tom Luna’s Students Come First proposals in a referendum, the state schools superintendent acknowledged he did not do enough to make the plan transparent or to involve Idahoans.

“Our plan under Students Come First was a legislative plan,” Luna said Monday in a meeting with the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board. “We had 105 (legislators) and one governor to convince.”

Voters saw it differently, and after lawmakers passed three sweeping laws that narrowed collective bargaining, instituted merit pay and would have put laptops in the hands of all Idaho high-schoolers, they knocked all three down last fall.

“What I learned ... is that we should have been far more aware of a more broad discussion amongst the general public and not just focus on a strategy that would have legislative success,” Luna said.

“Our goal was to successfully get comprehensive reform through the Legislature and then over a period of time through successful implementation … bring around those that were not supportive.”

Luna’s missteps are all the more apparent by the success of Gov. Butch Otter in creating a task force for educators, business people and government leaders. They spent eight months coming up with 21 recommendations that the 31-member task force agreed upon nearly unanimously.

The task force brought together often-disparate parts of the education and government community to create a to-do list with unusually broad support.

“The work was very transparent,” said Luna, a task force member. “A lot of the same amount of work went into developing the bills that became Students Come First, but obviously not in a very transparent and very public way.”

Luna talked about more than Students Come First during a 90-minute meeting with the Editorial Board.

Some highlights:

Lackluster SAT: Recently released SAT scores in Idaho show that only about a quarter of high school juniors are college and career ready. “It demonstrates that we have to raise our standards,” Luna said. Recent data show 90 percent of Idaho students meet current state standards in reading. But only 25 percent are ready for college.

Pay now, pay later: Gov. Otter’s task force recommendations won’t come for free. The traditional 2 to 3 percent increase in education funding from the Legislature won’t be enough to meet goals of refunding $82 million in budget cuts to schools lost over the last five years, or to pay for increased teacher salaries over the next several years, Luna said.

Luna wouldn’t give specific figures that will go into his budget, which is expected to be completed at the end of this month.

“I wouldn’t have voted for it if I didn’t think it was the right plan,” he said.

Getting better teachers: Teachers coming out of Idaho colleges are among the best educated, but in many cases the least prepared for the 21st-century classroom. Idaho needs to do more, Luna said, such as collecting data on new teachers to see how their students are performing to help drive instruction in colleges of education.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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