February 22, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho senators question class size hikes

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, left, and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, right, address the Idaho Press Club on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Idaho senators raised new concerns Tuesday about increasing class sizes in the state’s schools, as state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s sweeping school reform plan remained stalled on the Senate calendar despite narrowly clearing a Senate committee last week.

Increasing class sizes in grades 4-12 is the centerpiece of Luna’s reform plan, allowing the state to cut 770 teaching jobs in the next two years and providing the millions in savings that then would be funneled into technology upgrades, teacher performance pay and online courses for high school students.

The controversial plan was protested by hundreds at rallies across the state Monday, and senators say they’ve been receiving strong input from Idahoans who oppose the plan.

Senate Republicans gathered in an hourlong closed-door caucus Tuesday on the bills, and afterward, the caucus, which includes all but seven of the 35 senators, asked its members to weigh in on “what is in fact problematic” in the three-bill reform package. “I don’t know the answer,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Idaho Press Club at a Tuesday luncheon.

Options include pulling one or more of the bills back to the Senate Education Committee; printing new bills; and sending one or more of the bills to the Senate’s amending order, where any senator may offer amendments.

“There are active, ongoing conversations with both the governor, the superintendent and the stakeholders,” Davis said. “We are trying to find the changes that we believe are necessary in order to secure passage of the legislation. We believe that what the Senate is trying to do is put together an education bill that the Senate has confidence in, and that’s what we will do over the next several days.”

Davis, who appeared with House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, at the annual Idaho Press Club luncheon, said class sizes are a big concern for senators, as well as for their constituents, though Luna has maintained that raising class sizes won’t hurt student achievement.

Both Davis and Moyle are married to schoolteachers, they noted. Asked if he disagrees with Luna on class sizes, Davis said, “I have been counseled otherwise by people who have great influence over me.”

Davis said he thought there was “a variety of ways” to “put a package together that achieves the principal targets and goals of the superintendent,” while addressing senators’ concerns. “I can’t go beyond that, because frankly that’s what we’re trying to have the conversation with our caucus members about right now,” he said.

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