October 6, 2012 in Opinion

Con: ‘Reforms’ limit local control of schools, while taxing already cash-starved districts

Mike Lanza
 
Flexibility needed

The laws impose top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates that tie the hands of local school boards and divert money from scarce classroom resources.

There were good reasons why some 75,000 Idahoans signed petitions last year to overturn three education-related laws enacted by the Legislature: The Luna Laws are bad education policy and bad fiscal policy. They impose top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates that tie the hands of local school boards, divert money from our already scarce classroom resources, and use that money for expensive laptop and online class schemes that will do nothing to improve student achievement.

These laws require the state to buy laptops for all high school students, whether or not they need or want them. They require high school students to take online classes – the completion rates for which are very low compared to traditional classes – in order to graduate. The business model for large, for-profit corporations offering these online classes is based on high student/teacher ratios, often packing 100 to 200 students in a single class. Not surprisingly, these out-of-state corporations have made generous campaign contributions to the people who are pushing these laws.

These laws also limit local control. State leaders have long criticized the federal government for dictating one-size-fits-all policies that do not fit the needs of Idaho. So why should we accept what Idaho’s politicians have imposed on our local school districts?

Beyond their flawed provisions, we must recall that these misguided laws were proposed at a time when the Legislature was looking to further cut spending on our public schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna claimed that the economy demanded these laws. In other words, it was a plan to do education on the cheap, further starving a public school system already on life support. According to the U.S. Census, Idaho has ranked 50th in the nation in per pupil spending for the last two years, and in the bottom five for several more. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities reports that Idaho slashed school budgets by 19 percent during the recession, the fourth deepest cuts to schools in the nation. We’re now trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.

As the laws were debated in the Legislature, various Republican lawmakers saw through these schemes, noting the money wasn’t there, and that many teachers would lose their jobs as a result. Even the chairman of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee voted against the laws for these reasons. Proponents haven’t proposed or identified a single source of revenue to pay for the laws, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the next several years.

The net result is that these laws place even greater financial strains on local taxpayers. Most districts face choices between teacher layoffs – and bigger classes – or asking voters to approve supplemental levies. More than 80 districts around the state have such levies this year, amounting to a record high of $140 million. Projections for next year are a stunning $170 million.

There is much that we can do to improve the way our public schools educate our children. But the fact is, there is nothing in these laws that actually “reforms” how Idaho students are taught. These three laws were rammed through the Idaho Legislature last year by Luna without the input of parents, teachers, school board members, and administrators.

If you believe in doing what is best for Idaho’s children, teachers, and future, please vote no on Propositions 1, 2, and 3 on November 6.

Mike Lanza, an outdoor writer and father of two grade-school children, is the co-founder of Idaho Parents and Teachers Together and the Chairman of the Vote No on Propositions 1,2,3 campaign.


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