June 14, 2011 in Idaho

Luna launches education reform panel as referendums are certified

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Luna
(Full-size photo)

Funds come from salaries

Luna’s reforms have been particularly controversial as they come at a time when Idaho is cutting, not increasing, funding for schools. As a result, the bills tap teacher salary funds to pay for the new technology initiative and the merit-pay bonuses; hundreds of teaching jobs could be eliminated, depending on how local school districts cope with the cuts.

BOISE – Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna opened the deliberations of a 39-member task force Monday that will help determine how to implement big new school technology investments.

He did so even as the Idaho secretary of state’s office issued certificates officially placing three referendums to overturn the reforms on the November 2012 ballot.

The final tally, issued Monday, showed each of the three referendum petitions on Luna’s “Students Come First” reform bills received more than 74,000 signatures, far more than the required 47,432.

Nevertheless, Luna said Monday, “We’re implementing the law. … It’s the law of the land. We can’t have the education system in Idaho in limbo, so our job now is to implement this properly.”

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, agreed. “You move forward,” said Goedde, who sponsored the bills and serves on the task force. “It’s still law.”

The three bills remove most collective bargaining rights from Idaho teachers, impose a new merit-pay plan, and shift funds from teacher salaries to technology boosts, including a phased-in program to provide every Idaho high school student with a “mobile computing device” within five years and a new focus on online learning.

“We’ve got our work ahead of us,” said House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene. “We’ll just move forward as if the referendums are not going to pass.”

The task force, which met all day Monday, is scheduled to hear today from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise.

Luna said the two former governors, who chair the Digital Learning Council, a group they launched in 2010 to promote “high quality digital learning,” contacted him and “wanted to know how they could help.” Idaho won’t pay anything to bring the two to Boise to address the task force, Luna’s office said.

Luna told the task force Idaho must become a “global leader” in education, through “comprehensive and systemic change” to the state’s education system, focusing on technology and online learning. “We have to bring 21st century technology and all that it makes possible into every classroom,” he said. He said that’s the key to making sure all students have up-to-date educational opportunity, no matter where they live, and despite the state’s budget crunch.

“Do we wait for the economy to improve, do we wait for increased revenues? We can’t,” he said. “We have to be willing to spend the money that we know we have differently in order to give every student equal educational opportunity.”

Chelsea Gaona-Lincoln, spokeswoman for the Committee to Recall Tom Luna, said her group has collected more than 75,000 signatures in an attempt to force a recall election against Luna in August; it has until June 27 to gather 158,107. Her group has criticized Luna for not revealing his reform plan until after he was re-elected in 2010.


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