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Editorial: Education in Idaho awaits real engagement

Propositions 1, 2 and 3 failed spectacularly Tuesday.

Well done, Idaho voters.

Maybe it was sticker shock. A potential $180 million bill for computers was far above the 2011 estimates of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who in promoting his Children Come First school reform package had suggested $60 million to $70 million over five years. The deal with vendor Hewlett-Packard Co. was for eight years.

And there was the effort to keep concealed the names of donors who kicked $230,000 into the campaign to pass the propositions. It smelled bad, looked bad when the role of Gov. Butch Otter in soliciting the money was revealed, and was ultimately futile. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden saw to it that Idaho’s disclosure law was upheld, a credit to them both.

But, really, the laws were doomed from conception. Proposition 1 stripped teachers of most collective-bargaining rights, notably much of a say in what goes on in their classrooms. Proposition 2 implemented a defective merit pay system that tied awards to school performance, not to that of individual teachers. Proposition 3 was the ill-thought-out transition to online education.

The biggest stakeholders – teachers and parents – were ignored in the laws’ formulation. They were rushed through a compliant Legislature. When a campaign to kill the measures gathered signatures faster than ink can dry, the lawmakers responded by implementing the laws immediately.

Now they’re gone, but the need for reform remains.

Fortunately, the proposition opponents want to stay engaged, and Otter has indicated he is willing to start with a blank slate. Luna has said little since releasing a statement after voters round-filed his grand plan, but his claim Idahoans had conducted a “22-month discussion” about the issues does not square with the development of Children Come First, its passage by the Legislature, or events since the repeal effort began.

The review can start by discarding the limits on collective bargaining. Imposing contracts, as more districts have done, is a surefire morale-killer. Why would you not want teachers involved in how their classrooms can work better?

A deal on merit pay should be relatively easy, if the money is there to make it credible. About $39 million is due to be distributed to deserving teachers next week. If that first distribution happens, and is fair, perhaps the state can move on.

Online learning is becoming a necessity, but voters rejected the state plan by a margin of 2-to-1. With more education about the merits, and massaging of costs, voters, teachers and parents might be more willing to buy in.

Start with a short course in reconciliation.

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