August 19, 2014 in Idaho

Idaho schools chief Luna to join ed nonprofit as VP when term’s up

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Tom Luna
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has accepted a new job with a national education non-profit, starting Jan. 1, the day after his term ends.

Luna will be vice president of policy, advocacy and research for Project Lead the Way, a provider of STEM curriculum and teacher training to schools nationwide.

“My focus and priority today continues to be the children of Idaho,” Luna said in a statement. After he leaves office, he said, “This opportunity will allow me to continue to focus on my passion and personal mission to ensure that all children are prepared to succeed in the world where they will live and work.”

Luna will be based in Idaho in his new job, working from home. He’ll oversee a team focused on federal, state, and local policies and research initiatives that support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) growth across the United States. He’ll supervise four regional directors and a team of policy analysts and researchers; the position won’t include any lobbying.

According to its website, Project Lead the Way is the leading provider of K-12 STEM programs to schools in the United States, serving more than 5,000 elementary, middle and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It started in 1986 in upstate New York when high school teacher Richard Blais began offering pre-engineering and digital electronics classes to his students; he received support from the Liebich family’s Charitable Leadership Foundation in 1997 to expand the high school engineering program to 12 schools in upstate New York, and it grew from there.

Jennifer Cahill, spokeswoman for the organization, said it’s now funded by the fees that schools pay to participate in its programs, which range from $750 to $3,000 a year. It also has corporate partners, including Chevron, General Motors, Dow Chemical and many more, that give grants directly to schools to help cover the fees.

Many schools in Idaho offer the program, but it has no business relationship with the state Department of Education. “On a statewide level, we haven’t worked with them at all, and we will continue to not work with them,” said department spokesman Brady Moore.

Luna, a businessman and the first non-educator to serve as Idaho’s schools chief, has served two terms. In his second term, after several years of sharp budget cuts to schools, he championed a sweeping set of reform laws he dubbed “Students Come First” that sought to provide every high school student with a laptop computer and a new focus on online learning while trimming back teacher contracting rights. Luna promoted the reforms as allowing the state to do more in schools with the same amount of money. The controversial laws were repealed by voters in the 2012 general election.

Two candidates are now vying to replace him: Democrat Jana Jones, former chief deputy to then-Democratic Superintendent Marilyn Howard, and the candidate who narrowly lost to Luna when he first won the office in 2006; and Republican Sherri Ybarra, a local school administrator from Mountain Home.


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