Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna have named leaders for their campaign to fight three voter referenda in November that seek to overturn the "Students Come First" school reform laws Luna and Otter championed in 2011. The controversial laws roll back teachers' collective bargaining rights and shift existing school funding to a new focus on online learning, laptop computers for every student, and a new performance-pay bonus system for teachers, along with other changes. Opponents gathered more than 74,000 signatures to place the referenda on the ballot, but follow-up bills added emergency clauses so that the reform laws took effect in the meantime; that would stop if voters decide in November to repeal them. Yesterday, the State Department of Education announced the 32 school districts that will be up first to receive laptops, with teachers to get them this fall and students in the fall of 2013.
The new "Yes for Idaho Education" group will be co-chaired by state Board of Education member Milford Terrell and Idaho Falls school board member Wendy Horman, with retiring state Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, as treasurer. Lobbyist Ken Burgess is coordinating the effort. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Burgess said Otter plans a formal launch for the group in the coming days.
Lawmaker joins Otter fight to keep education laws
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A retiring state lawmaker has joined Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's campaign to retain new education laws that limit collective bargaining while phasing laptops into the classroom and making online learning a requirement.
State Rep. Mack Shirley of Rexburg has been named treasurer of the governor's political action committee, YES! For Idaho Education. The campaign's paperwork was filed with the Idaho Secretary of State's office late Wednesday.
Shirley supported the reforms in the Idaho Legislature and approached Otter to offer his help after it became apparent that critics of the education changes had gathered enough signatures to get a repeal initiative on the November ballot, said Ken Burgess, who is managing the campaign.
Shirley "was a really good, natural choice for us," Burgess said.
The campaign will be spearheaded by Otter and co-chaired by state Board of Education member Milford Terrell and Wendy Horman, who serves on the Idaho Falls School Board. Their work will be targeted at beating back the repeal efforts.
The three laws championed by public schools chief Tom Luna and backed by Otter were approved during the 2011 session amid outcry from the teachers union, parents and some students. More than 74,000 signatures were collected on each of three petitions last spring to put the new Idaho laws to referendum votes.
The changes included polarizing provisions that eliminated bonuses for educators who retire early; phased out tenure; and made student achievement half of a teacher's job evaluation. Idaho also ditched the "last hired, first fired" policy used in most districts for laying off educators, which means those with the most seniority could be in jeopardy. High school students will get laptops starting next year, but teachers are getting the devices first this fall.
Idaho also introduced a plan to award teachers merit bonuses, put more money into professional development and is paying for paying for students to take college credits while they're still in high school, under the changes.
A political group working to overturn Luna's Students Come First plan has hired an out-of-state consultant who last November helped repeal a hotly debated Ohio law that limited collective bargaining. David Williams has been working on the Idaho campaign since April.
Otter picked Burgess, a lobbyist and veteran campaigner, to help plot his strategy for rallying behind the new education laws.
Burgess contends the Ohio defeat won't prove a harbinger of things to come in Idaho. Meanwhile, Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko has cited Wisconsin, issuing a statement several hours before Republican Gov. Scott Walker's recall victory saying the outcome of the election was critical to Idaho's future.
"As soon as this election is over, Idaho will become the next battleground," Semanko said. "... we must defend our state from union control."
Burgess declined, again, to make comparisons.
"I think it's difficult to draw direct parallels to what happened in Wisconsin or Ohio to this particular issue in Idaho," Burgess said. "Both those states are relatively strong union states, Idaho is not."
He did predict, however, that the Idaho Education Association will get plenty of help from national union groups. "But I think in the long run," Burgess said, "the question becomes, coming off of Wisconsin, are they feeling deflated or are they more motived to get a win?"
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.