Idaho school reform foes call for new start
BOISE - After Idaho voters decisively rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws on Tuesday, leaders on both sides were calling Wednesday for a new start on education reforms in Idaho, with all the stakeholders at the table.
Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who chaired the successful referendum campaign, said, “We want to sit down with our elected leaders, and that includes Superintendent (Tom) Luna, and begin the hard work that is required to forge real education reform.”
Luna, the author of the reform laws, had no comment Wednesday beyond a prepared statement in which he said his proposed reforms were “critical,” from rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights to instituting merit pay and tech upgrades in Idaho school classrooms. “I do not believe any Idahoan wants to go back to the status quo system we had two years ago,” Luna said.
But Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he - and Luna - are ready to talk. Otter said he’d already been in touch with top legislative leaders about getting that started. “We’re prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all of the stakeholders,” the governor declared.
Asked about Luna’s sentiments, Otter said, “I sense that he believes this is a new beginning on education reform, and that we’re going to have to go forward.”
Idaho’s GOP-dominated Legislature enacted the sweeping reform plan in 2011 over loud and sustained objections from opponents; it passed without a single Democratic vote in either house, and with bipartisan opposition. When opponents appeared close to gathering enough signatures to force a voter referendum on the plan, lawmakers pushed through emergency clauses so the laws would take effect immediately anyway.
Now, they’re repealed, including the cancellation of a just-signed $182 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard Co. to supply laptop computers to every Idaho high school student and teacher. The contract is being terminated at no cost to the state; no laptops had been delivered at the time of the election.
Otter said he’d be opposed to trying to just re-pass the same laws the voters have rejected. “That isn’t a course that I think is positive, that isn’t a course that I think would be productive,” he said. “I do think what we need to do is take each prop, each idea of reform, and sit down and say, ‘What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it? If you had a chance to change it, how would you change it?’ And those things that we can agree on, and each and every one of those … is what we ought to go forward with.”
Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, which strongly opposed the measures, said, “Now that the voters have spoken, it’s up to us, the adults, to model … for our students how grownups with diverse views can come together and put their differences aside and go forward. … I urge lawmakers and other elected leaders and policy makers to meet us at the table, to begin the conversation about what is best for Idaho’s students and Idaho’s schools. We believe that together we can be a model of reform for the nation.”
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who defeated two challengers Tuesday to win a seventh Senate term with 57 percent of the vote, said he’ll “withhold judgment on how serious the IEA is on looking at education reform” until he sees what vision the teachers union proposes for future reforms.
“If the union is sincere in looking at reform, I think they need to be included,” Goedde said. “But if it’s going to be ‘not only no but hell no,’ which has kind of been their prior approach to this, then it’s a futile effort to include them.”
Goedde also said he’s mulling whether to continue as Senate Education Committee chairman, or move to a different committee.
In final, unofficial results, Proposition 1, which curbed teachers’ collective bargaining rights, failed with 57.3 percent of the Idaho electorate voting no. Proposition 2, the merit-pay bonus plan, failed with 58 percent voting no. And Proposition 3, which included the laptops and a new focus on online learning, failed by the biggest margin, with 66.7 percent opposing it.
Maria Greeley, a Boise mom and co-founder of the referendum campaign with Lanza, said, “The Luna laws were divisive and destructive, but there is a positive outcome. We have learned how important it is for all citizens to remain engaged in education. We know what we don’t want, and by contrast, we have learned what we do want: We want transparency. We want collaboration. We want politics kept out of education. We want the input from our educators. We want our locally elected school boards to determine what is best for each district. And we want to know that our teachers are valued.”
She said, “It is now time to start healing and moving forward.”