BOISE – The latest campaign commercial opposing Idaho’s school reform ballot measures draws on a variety of criticism of the measures to suggest they hamper teachers in doing their jobs.
“We want to give your children the best education – but the Luna laws make that harder,” says the ad, which is airing statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene market.
The ad cites an array of criticisms of the measures, some directly related to the propositions and others more general, from school funding issues to parent fees.
“You have significant number of undecided, and I expect to some extent, bewildered voters who are trying to sort all of this out,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at Boise State University. “I think some bewildered voters vote no or don’t vote at all. I’m not suggesting that is their intent, but I think it could be an unintended consequence.”
One claim in the commercial is that the measures “put even more emphasis on teaching to the test.”
While that’s been a controversial concept in Idaho for a decade as it, like all states, moved toward more emphasis on high-stakes testing, the measures include Proposition 2, which sets up a new teacher merit-pay bonus program tied in part to improvement in student test scores on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.
The ad also faults the measures for requiring “that taxpayers fund expensive laptops for students.”
Proposition 3 specifically requires the state to pay for laptop computers for every high school student and teacher. Last week, the state signed a $180 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard Co. to supply the laptops. The price tag is well above state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s original estimates, which suggested that five years of providing laptops would cost $60 million, or $70 million including the cost of also setting up wireless networks, which was included in the contract.
If voters turn thumbs-down on Proposition 3 next week, the $180 million contract would be canceled.
Two other charges in the ad – that Idaho has been “under-funding our schools” and that Idaho parents are paying fees for “art, sports, even kindergarten,” – are well-grounded claims, but do not appear to be directly linked to the ballot propositions.
Idaho’s school spending per pupil ranked 50th in the nation this year for a second straight year, according to the U.S. Census, and its spending per $1,000 in per-capita income is now 38th, down from 17th in 2001. A study released last month by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that Idaho’s school funding per student took the fourth-biggest drop in the nation from 2008 to 2012, falling 19 percent. The drop in state funding has prompted most Idaho school districts to seek local property tax overrides to make up part of the loss.