BOISE – A far-reaching bill that removes most of Idaho teachers’ existing collective bargaining rights passed the Idaho House on Tuesday, sending the measure to the governor’s desk and marking a big win for state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who proposed the plan.
Luna hailed the move, calling it “a great step forward,” while Idaho’s teachers union, the Idaho Education Association, declared a “Day of Action” with after-school rallies across the state today to protest.
“Idahoans have spoken out for two months against these bills, but lawmakers refuse to listen,” said IEA President Sherri Wood. The association opposed Luna’s re-election bid this year.
State Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s House sponsor, told the House as its three-hour-plus debate came to a close, “I realize this touches all of our nerves in one way or another.”
“You do remember your good teachers,” Nonini said. But he said school districts face high costs when they try to remove a poor teacher. “That’s not right,” he said.
Senate Bill 1108 passed on a 48-22 vote; it had earlier passed the Senate by a narrower margin. Gov. Butch Otter is among the bill’s co-sponsors and has indicated he’ll sign it into law.
Nine Republicans joined every House Democrat in opposing the bill; only Republicans voted in favor. But the debate Tuesday was dominated by the bill’s opponents.
State Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said, “Let’s stop pretending that SB 1108 has anything to do with” improving student achievement. “The bill intends to dismantle the Idaho Education Association, put teachers in their place, and make sure that teachers are effectively silenced … where frankly their expertise ought to be welcome.”
State Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, a retired teacher, said Nonini was mistaken when he told the House that under current collective bargaining laws, teachers and districts rarely reach amiable agreements. “And how do I know? I’ve been there,” she said. “For 38 years, I’ve been there.”
North Idaho lawmakers mostly supported the bill, with the only “no” votes among Panhandle representatives coming from Ringo and state Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover; and Tom Trail, R-Moscow.
Eskridge said after the vote that he doesn’t like the idea of teacher tenure. But, he said, “The reason I voted ‘no’ is I’m concerned with the arbitrary dismissal of our teachers, especially in a reduction in force, without regard to seniority.” Eskridge said SB 1108 would let school districts dismiss effective, longtime teachers just because they’re higher-salaried than less-experienced ones. “Money shouldn’t be the only factor,” he said.
The measure is the first of three bills that Luna has proposed this year as part of a sweeping school reform plan; the second bill, SB 1110, setting up a teacher merit pay program, is up for debate in the House this morning. The third bill, however, which was supposed to fund the merit pay program along with technology upgrades including laptop computers for all high school students, remains stalled in a Senate committee; it would raise Idaho’s class sizes in grades 4-12 and eliminate 770 teaching jobs in the next two years.