Idaho

Latest school reform ad hits union issue

BOISE - The latest statewide TV commercial to air in the battle over Idaho’s controversial school reform laws comes from opponents of the laws, and focuses on what may be their toughest sell in the right-to-work state: Proposition 1, which restricts collective bargaining rights for teachers.

The ad says the laws “ignore our teachers’ concerns,” and “prohibit teachers from negotiating important things like overcrowded classrooms, supplies and student safety.”

The claim about negotiations is accurate. SB 1108, which Proposition 1 would uphold, changed state law so that teacher negotiations can only be on “matters related to compensation of professional employees.” Prior to the law, teacher contracts around the state routinely addressed other issues as well, from class size to bell schedules to furnace safety inspections.

“In Students Come First legislation, the teacher unions are targeted and their collective bargaining rights have been severely limited,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus of public policy. The ad tries to focus that issue to show “the net effect of this legislation is a negative effect on teachers and ultimately on students. … I think that’s fairly effective,” he said.

However, he noted, “How much that will resonate with the Idaho public is yet to be seen, in a right-to-work state where unions are not that popular.”

In a debate on the reform laws at the City Club of Boise this week, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna said teachers could bring up those issues, from student discipline to bell schedules to school calendars, in other settings. Asked about that Wednesday, Luna’s spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said school boards now make those decisions. “So any teacher, any parent or any citizen can attend a local school board meeting or talk to their local school board members and participate in that process.”

The 30-second commercial, sponsored by the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, also highlights how budget cuts have prompted teachers to “spend their own money on supplies for our kids.”

While that’s accurate, it’s not an issue that’s addressed in the school reform laws that are up for possible repeal in the referendum vote.

“That’s just really an issue of underfunding public education, which has been an issue for years,” Weatherby said.

In fact, Luna, when he first was elected in 2006, pushed for a special line item in the public school budget to cover school supplies so teachers wouldn’t have to buy their own. At his urging, the Legislature allocated $350 per teacher for classroom supplies in fiscal year 2008 and 2009, and $300 per teacher in fiscal year 2010. That funding disappeared, however, with the advent of deep cuts in the public school budget.

Brian Cronin, consultant to the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, said the new commercial is running statewide, including the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene market; it started airing yesterday.



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