Eye On Boise

Luna heads off on statewide tour of school districts, talking reforms, legislation

State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna is headed off on a tour of school districts around the state, to update them on new legislation and the implementation of his "Students Come First" reforms, the Associated Press reports. The plan, as originally passed last year, shifted money away from salaries over several years to help pay for new classroom technology and teacher merit bonuses. "I think it's safe to say this was probably the most unpopular part of these laws for most people," said Luna's deputy chief of staff Jason Hancock. This year, lawmakers partially reversed that move, cancelling scheduled salary cuts for future years, while maintaining the reforms as the top funding priority in the school budget. Cuts already made this year weren't reversed.

Luna's tour started in Nampa, with additional stops planned in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Burley, Coeur d'Alene and Moscow; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho schools chief kicks off post-session tour
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press


NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — At the close of the most recent Idaho Legislature, state schools chief Tom Luna did something he's rarely done in his five years in office — he took some time off.

Luna went home to Nampa, where he built a playhouse in his backyard for his grandchildren before kicking off his post-legislative tour Monday in Nampa.

"It was a relaxing week and our grandkids are happier for it," Luna said.

A break didn't seem like an option a year ago, when he was working to win support for a polarizing package of education reforms as critics plotted his ouster. The education changes Luna proposed were among the most sweeping in decades, and they were placed into law amid decreased funding for public schools.

Idaho limited collective bargaining, introduced merit pay and is phasing in laptops for high school teachers and students while making online courses a requirement to graduate, under the reforms approved in 2011.

This year, the biggest education dustup revolved around how best to spend increased funding for next year into the future.

"It was a lot less stressful on everyone, I suspect," Luna told The Associated Press.

As Luna hits the road this week, he's touting lawmaker passage of an increased public schools budget for next year, and the restoration of about $35 million that would have been taken from teacher salaries over the next five years to help pay for the reforms.

State support for Idaho's public schools will increase 4.6 percent under a budget for next year, Luna told education officials in Nampa. Overall, the budget increase is much smaller at 0.4 percent when including both state and federal funds.

But not everyone considers the session a win.

A group seeking to recall Luna last year failed to gather enough signatures, but opponents did get measures on the November ballot aimed at overturning the reforms. Mike Lanza, co-founder of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, helped spearhead the referendum effort.

"I'm not impressed," Lanza said about lawmaker efforts to boost education spending in 2012. "The amount they're attempting to put back into schools now is minuscule compared to what they've cut over the past years."

Luna cited those deep cuts when lobbying for his school reforms last year, saying Idaho need to restructure how its scarce education dollars were spent. Luna's "Students Come First" plan shifted money away from salaries over several years to help pay for new classroom technology and teacher merit bonuses.

"I think it's safe to say this was probably the most unpopular part of these laws for most people," said Luna's deputy chief of staff Jason Hancock.

In 2012, a top priority for Luna and lawmakers was restoring those scheduled salary cuts.

At the start of the session, Luna proposed using increased revenues to offset next year's salary reduction. State senators opted to reverse the cuts indefinitely, with lawmakers coming up with the money for the reforms. But the Idaho House feared that measure put ongoing funding for the reforms in jeopardy. Lawmakers reached a compromise in the final days of the session, which ended March 29, and eliminated the salary reductions but made the reforms a priority for any new funding.

In Nampa, Luna boasted that dozens of states approved some form of education reform last year, but Idaho's changes stood out.

"There's never been a more exciting time to be involved in public education," Luna told education officials in Nampa.

Luna's tour continues Tuesday in Idaho Falls, with more stops planned in Pocatello, Burley, Coeur d'Alene and Moscow.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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