BOISE – The latest campaign ad in Idaho’s school reform fight features Gov. Butch Otter endorsing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in a positive, feel-good message.
“Education in Idaho is at a crossroads,” the casually dressed governor says in the commercial, which is running statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene market. “This election year we’re being asked whether we will keep meaningful education reforms on the books or go back to the old way of doing things.”
The “old way of doing things” refers to Idaho’s laws prior to 2011, when lawmakers enacted the reforms that restricted teachers’ collective bargaining rights, imposed a new merit-pay bonus system, and required big technology boosts including laptop computers for high school students and a new focus on online learning.
“It paints the opposition as being reactionaries, going back to the old ways, which is kind of funny,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University. “It’s a pretty positive message.”
The ad is sponsored by Yes for Idaho Education, the official group backing the three measures.
Opponents of the laws collected thousands of signatures to force a voter referendum on the laws. A yes vote would keep them, while a no vote would repeal them.
Ken Burgess, spokesman for the Yes campaign, said the idea behind the ad was partly to defuse ire aimed against state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, the author of the laws. “All this issue about these things being called the ‘Luna laws’ – we just want to remind everybody from a leadership, statesman standpoint that the governor was as much responsible for this stuff certainly as Tom Luna,” Burgess said.
Otter stood by Luna in strong support of the bills throughout the 2011 legislative session and helped lobby for their passage amid much dissent in the Legislature.
In the ad, Otter says, “Our reforms give more control to parents and local school boards, provide bonuses to good teachers and put much-needed technology in the classroom.”
Otter’s claim about the laws giving more control to parents and local school boards is accurate, at least with respect to two areas: Enrollment of students in online classes by parents and collective bargaining with teachers by local school boards.
Weatherby said the “much-needed technology” claim is arguable. “We really don’t know,” he said. “We have a lot of anecdotal information about what classroom teachers and students already have available in terms of that kind of technology.”