BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed the third major school reform bill into law on Friday, and a parents’ group immediately filed paperwork for a referendum drive to overturn it.
The third reform bill, SB 1184, shifts funds from teacher salaries to technology upgrades and a merit-pay program, and brings a new focus on online learning. The two earlier bills, already signed into law and targeted in referendum drives, remove most collective bargaining rights from teachers and set up a teacher merit-pay bonus plan.
Otter said, “The system we had wasn’t working, wasn’t producing the kind of students that we needed.”
State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who joined Otter at the signing along with a group of the bill’s legislative sponsors and supporters, said the bills will do “things that we know we should have done long ago.”
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s lead sponsor, said when he first heard from Otter in November that “we need to talk about education reform … I had no idea of the depth of reform that we were talking about. … It’s landmark legislation.”
Though Luna removed requirements he’d proposed for students to take specific numbers of online classes in order to graduate from high school in Idaho, the final version of the bill replaced that with a requirement for the state Board of Education to determine how many online classes should be required, starting with ninth-graders in fall 2012.
Luna said Friday that four classes is “a reasonable number,” but Otter said he considered that the minimum and that he expects students will be taking “12 or 15” online classes.
An hour later, Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two, gathered with Boise mother Maria Greeley and a crowd of supporters to deliver the referendum paperwork to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.
“We’ll expedite this,” Ysursa said. “The clock is ticking.”
The referendum supporters now have just under 60 days to gather 47,432 signatures from registered voters to overturn each of the three school reform bills, SB 1184, SB 1108 and SB 1110.
“Frankly, this is very much a parent-driven effort,” said Lanza, who said the new group, Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, has no budget and is calling for volunteers.
“We are here because thousands of emails, thousands of people attending rallies across Idaho, and the testimony of parents, school board members, school administrators and teachers did not matter to Gov. Otter and the majority of the state Legislature,” Lanza said.
“Idahoans made it clear that we do not want to trade teachers for laptops and required online courses. And we do not support laws that accomplish little beyond denigrating teachers,” he said. “The governor and Legislature rammed this plan through against the overwhelming opposition of the public. They passed it despite being told by administrators and teachers who will have to implement this poorly designed plan that it will be a financial and educational disaster for Idaho’s public schools.”
At the bill-signing, Luna said his vision for the reform plan is that it will ensure every child has a great teacher, every year of school.
House Education Vice Chairman Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, said, “I think every teacher will be a better teacher with the proper utilization of technology in the classroom.”
The bills will take effect right away, thanks to emergency clauses lawmakers rushed through at the end of the legislative session, but if the referendum drive collects enough signatures, voters would have an opportunity to overturn them in the November 2012 election.
Asked about the referendum drive, Otter said, “The people have a responsibility and they have a right and they have the power to engage in a referendum to change whatever they think is wrong. … That’s covered in our constitution.”
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