Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

‘Students Come First’ laptop rollout slips behind schedule; no vendor selected yet

The first round of more than 6,000 laptop computers, one for every high school teacher and administrator, was supposed to be out in Idaho's schools this month under the “Students Come First” school reform plan, but holdups in finding a suitable vendor have pushed that way back. After canceling a bidding process in June for lack of competitive bids, the state is now negotiating with up to a half-dozen potential providers of the computers, with hopes of picking one in the coming weeks and getting them out in the second semester.

At stake is an eight-year contract worth more than $100 million, under which the provider would supply and maintain laptops for every Idaho high school student, provide technical support, and set up and maintain wireless networks in the Idaho schools. “It's the whole ball of wax,” said Idaho Division of Purchasing Director Bill Burns. “It's a pretty big contract.”

The state has budgeted $2.56 million for the first round of laptops this year, an average of $391 apiece. But the bidder will set the price, and it's unclear what will happen if the bid comes in higher than that. Meanwhile, a clause in the contract will state that the whole thing goes away if voters repeal the program on Nov. 6; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

School reform forum draws a crowd

Last night's public forum on the school reform ballot measures drew a near-capacity crowd of 350 at Centennial High School, the Idaho Statesman reports; you can read their full report here.

Public invited to forum on school reform measures tonight at Centennial High

Tonight, the League of Women Voters, Transform Idaho and the AAUW are sponsoring an educational panel discussion on Idaho's school reform referenda; the forum, which is free and open to the public, will be at Centennial High School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. “The objective is to clarify the referendums and the impact of the resulting vote on Idaho's educational system,” the groups said in a news release announcing the event.



The panel will include Ken Burgess, partner at Veritas Advisors and campaign manager of the Yes4Idaho campaign, and Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, representing the “yes” side; and Mike Lanza, chair of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, and Cindy Wilson, government teacher at Centennial High, representing the “no” side. Current perspective on how the laws are working in the Boise and Meridian school districts will be provided by Don Coberly, Boise schools superintendent; A.J. Balukoff, Boise school board president; Eric Exline, Meridian School District community relations director; and Anne Ritter, vice chair of the Meridian School Board.



Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at BSU, will moderate. Those attending are encouraged to arrive by 6:15 p.m.; Centennial High School is located at Cloverdale and McMillan roads in Boise.

‘No’ campaign: ‘There’s widespread opposition’

Mike Lanza, chairman of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, asked why the National Education Association gave $1.06 million to the campaign against the school-reform measures, said, “Because they're an organization of teachers and they support their subsidiary organizations around the country. Their membership helps decide these things, what they want to support. They, I think, recognize that what's going on in Idaho is similar to what's happening in other states, and that frankly these are key education questions about how our schools are going to run for many years to come.” He said, “We appreciate the fact that there are teachers outside of Idaho who support what we're doing as well.”

As for the pro-reform campaign's latest TV ad, which uses an edited 2009 video clip to suggest that the reason the NEA is backing repeal of Idaho's reform laws is to flex the muscles of union power, Lanza said, “The other side has been wanting to portray this from the get-go as union vs. Tom Luna. But I think they're dodging a mathematical reality that we would not be talking about that, and it would not be on the ballot, if it wasn't for the fact that there's widespread opposition to these laws beyond teachers. We got 74,000 signatures.” The Idaho Education Association, Idaho's teachers union, has roughly 13,000 members.

The “No” campaign's most recent campaign finance report showed the group has raised $1.4 million and spent $1.3 million, with the largest chunk of its fundraising, $1.06 million, coming from the National Education Association, $280,000 from the Idaho Education Association and the rest from hundreds of small donations from individuals across the state.

 

The “Yes” campaign's report showed it's raised $164,858 and spent $112,679; the biggest contributions were $50,000 from Melaleuca and $15,000 from Hagadone Hospitality, with other big givers including the Idaho Prosperity Fund at $20,500 and the Idaho Republican Party and Lorna Finman at $10,000 each. In addition, Parents for Education Reform reported raising and spending $200,350 from undisclosed donors; and the Idaho Federation of Republican Women reported raising and spending $115,000, $110,000 of that from Melaleuca.

Idaho Secretary of State says he’ll likely demand disclosure of donors

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says he's likely to demand that a group helping finance the campaign to save Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's education reforms reveal the names of its contributors, the AP reports. Education Voters of Idaho collected at least $200,000 to promote Luna's reforms ahead of the Nov. 6 referendum, but says it doesn't have to disclose donors because it's a nonprofit organization under federal tax law. On Monday, Ysursa said the group has yet to provide a legal explanation for why it's not a political action committee required by Idaho's 1974 “Sunshine laws” to disclose donors ahead of the election. “It eviscerates the law if we don't get disclosure,” Ysursa told the Associated Press. “We personally do not believe there's a doubt here.”

Absent a response from the group, Ysursa said he'll seek “legal remedies” that could include a request for a court order for it to reveal its donors. He expects to act this week. Susan Buxton, Education Voters of Idaho's attorney, didn't return a call seeking comment Monday. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Pro-reform group defends use of old video clip in ad

Ken Burgess, spokesman for Yes for Idaho Education, is defending his group's use of an edited clip from a July 2009 speech by a retiring NEA official in a campaign commercial that says it shows “the national teachers union as they explain why the union is spending millions to defeat education reform like Props 1, 2, and 3 here in Idaho.” “The purpose of that ad is to demonstrate to Idahoans really what and who the NEA is all about,” Burgess said. “What's most important to them really is just being able to have members.”

Asked how the 2009 clip shows why the NEA is spending big on the Idaho campaign in 2012, Burgess said, “Oh, they've engaged in these types of efforts in many states around the country where education reform has been attempted. It's nothing new for Idaho, it's nothing new for this year. … It's stuff that they have done all along, because they basically oppose reform of the status quo.”

Burgess said an earlier ad in favor of Props 1, 2 and 3 that was being run by a group coordinated by lobbyist and political activist John Foster is no longer running, but he promised “a very aggressive effort on our part … all the way through Nov. 6” to push for support for the measures, possibly including additional ads. The new TV commercial is running across southern Idaho, and a radio version is running statewide.

Ad Watch: New Idaho pro-school reform ad takes 2009 video clip out of context

The latest campaign commercial in the school reform fight comes from “Yes for Idaho Education,” the group leading the campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, and features an edited clip from a July 2009 retirement speech by then-National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin, talking about why he believed the NEA had become an effective advocate during the 41 years he'd been with the group. That's not what the ad says the clip is about, however.

“Listen to the national teachers union as they explain why the union is spending millions to defeat education reform like Props 1, 2 and 3 in Idaho,” the ad states. It then plays this edited clip from Chanin's speech: “It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. It's because we have power.” The narrator then says, “Don't let the union stop education reform in Idaho - vote yes on Props 1, 2 and 3.”

However, not only is the statement not about why the NEA is backing the campaign against the reforms - which campaign finance reports show it's doing to the tune of $1.07 million so far - the clip is of statements made more than two years before Idaho's reform laws even passed. The same cropped video clip has been used repeatedly over the past three years to try to discredit the NEA, notably in February of 2011 by Sean Hannity on Fox News and by conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh, both of whom used the clip to suggest that the national teachers union doesn't care about children; and in a March 2011 anti-union ad from Crossroads GPS and Karl Rove that prompted criticisms both from the NEA and the conservative Cato Institute; Talking Points Memo reported here on that dustup.

Yes for Idaho Education has not yet responded to reporters' inquiries about its new ad.

Poll: Idahoans deeply divided over school reform propositions

A new statewide poll out sponsored by the Idaho Statesman newspaper shows Idahoans deeply divided over the school reform referenda measures on the November ballot, Propositions 1, 2 and 3. The poll of 625 likely voters, conducted last week and released over the weekend, showed these results:

Prop 1: 42 percent against, 38 percent in favor, 20 percent undecided
Prop 2: 42 percent in favor, 39 percent against, 19 percent undecided
Prop 3: 47 percent against, 40 percent in favor, 13 percent undecided

Plus, when asked if the propositions, if approved by voters, will improve the quality of education in Idaho public schools, 44 percent said no, 39 percent yes, and 17 percent were undecided. You can read a full report here in the Statesman.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. conducted the poll for the Statesman; pollster Brad Coker told Statesman reporter Dan Popkey that the high number of undecided voters is likely to end up breaking 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 against the measures. “The fact that all the results are close is misleading,” Coker told the Statesman. “The truth is that all three face a stiff uphill battle. All things being equal, they are likely to lose by margins much larger than what these numbers show.”

This is the first independent poll conducted and released on Idaho's hottest election-season issue this year.
  

VanderSloot pledges to up his spending in support of school reform laws

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that eastern Idaho millionaire and GOP activist Frank VanderSloot is planning to sharply up his spending in support of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform referenda, now that a legal dispute over disclosure of donors is holding up a big batch of anonymously raised funds intended for the campaign. VanderSloot, CEO of Melaleuca, already has spent more than $200,000 on behalf of the “yes” campaign backing the measures, including $50,000 donated to Yes for Idaho Education, $110,000 to the Idaho Federation of Republican Women for radio ads, and $20,000 a week for the last several weeks for his own separately funded full-page ads in newspapers across the state.

VanderSloot told Popkey that campaign finance reports showing opponents of the measures have raised  $1.3 million from teachers unions - along with undisclosed internal polling showing the measures trailing - prompted him to dig deeper himself; you can read Popkey's full report here. VanderSloot also told both Popkey and the Idaho Falls Post Register that he never donated to the anonymous fund.

Meanwhile, VanderSloot also told Popkey that despite his backing of the reform plan, he's “not very enamored with Prop 3,” the measure that requires the state to provide every high school student with a laptop computer and mandates a new focus on online learning. “I never have been,” VanderSloot said, telling Popkey he's more concerned about the other two measures, which roll back teachers' collective bargaining rights and impose a new merit-pay bonus system. You can read Popkey's full post on that here.
  

School reform campaign groups offered two ways to donate: Regular or secret

Idaho's campaign finance deadline came and went Wednesday without any word on who funded a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of controversial school reform measures - and backers say they don't plan to disclose their donors. Former state Rep. Debbie Field, the former two-time campaign manager for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, said potential donors to the campaigns backing the reform laws are being told they have two avenues: Donate to the official “Yes for Education” campaign, which means their contributions will be reported; or give anonymously through two new groups she's chairing.

Field said she believes people have been intimidated by unions on the school reform issue, and the groups provide an avenue “for people who really wanted to give, but didn't want to go through the intimidation.” She said, “They will give if they feel like they can give anonymously to a place that will support education, but they don't want to be maligned.” The arrangement is currently under legal review at the Idaho Secretary of State's office, opponents of the measures decried it as a front for mischief and called the intimidation claim “preposterous.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Funding for $200K in pro-school reform ads came from undisclosed source

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports that Debbie Field, Gov. Butch Otter's former drug czar and two-time campaign manager, has raised $200,350 from a single source and spent it on broadcast ads supporting Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the “Students Come First” school reform laws. Field filed a campaign finance report today saying the money, all spent on the broadcast advertising, came from a group called “Education Voters of Idaho” that shares the same Boise post office with Field's group, “Parents for Education Reform,” and referred Popkey to John Foster for information about the funding group; Foster told Popkey the funding group is a 501c4 non-profit that doesn't have to disclose the source of the money. Popkey reports that the Idaho Secretary of State's office said that question is “currently under legal review.” You can read Popkey's full post here.

Luna repays lobbying firm for staffers’ luncheons at City Club forum

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports that state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has reimbursed a lobbying firm that represents Apple and other clients for hosting his state staff for lunch during the City Club of Boise forum on Luna's school reform laws this week; the laws include big state investments in laptop computers. Popkey reports that when he first asked Luna about having his staffers hosted at the lobbying firm's table, Luna told him, “I didn't know about that,” but said, “I don't have a problem with it.” Later, Popkey reported, Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, emailed him to say Luna had repaid the firm out of his own pocket. “He does not believe there was any wrongdoing in his staff sitting at the Sullivan Reberger Eiguren table at City Club; however, he does not want even the appearance to be misunderstood,” McGrath wrote. You can read Popkey's full post here.

Debate: What Did Luna Say?

Both sides are standing by their conflicting versions of what was said yesterday in the Luna-Cronin clash at the City Club of Boise, shown here, when, just after Rep. Brian Cronin's opening remarks, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna leaned over to him and expressed displeasure about Cronin's remarks. This photo, taken by Dan King, contract photographer for the City Club, captures the moment. I requested the audio from Boise State Public Radio, which broadcasts City Club forums, and will broadcast this one on Saturday evening; the forum also is scheduled to air on KTVB's 24/7 channel twice tomorrow, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Cronin maintains that Luna said something like, “That's the biggest piece of bullshit I've ever heard.” Luna maintains he said something like, “I could not believe the rhetoric in your speech” or “I could not believe what you said in your speech”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: Would it make a difference to you if Luna has said (BS)?

The Luna-Cronin clash: What was that he said?

Both sides are standing by their conflicting versions of what was said yesterday in the Luna-Cronin clash at the City Club of Boise, shown here, when, just after Rep. Brian Cronin's opening remarks, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna leaned over to him and expressed displeasure about Cronin's remarks. This photo, taken by Dan King, photographer for the City Club, captures the moment.

I requested the audio from Boise State Public Radio, which broadcasts City Club forums, and will broadcast this one on Saturday evening; the forum also is scheduled to air on KTVB's 24/7 channel twice tomorrow, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (KTVB also has posted video of the forum here; the exchange comes about 28 minutes in, near the end of Part 1). Cronin maintains that Luna said something like, “That's the biggest piece of bullshit I've ever heard.” Luna maintains he said something like, “I could not believe the rhetoric in your speech” or “I could not believe what you said in your speech.” After the disputed comment, Cronin says “Mm-kay,” or laughs, and then Luna makes a comment that includes the word “lobbyist,” something like, “I tell you what, I'll never call you a lobbyist if you don't know what your roles are.” At that point, the audio cuts out because the moderator began speaking.

The audio is very difficult to make out, because Luna is practically whispering in Cronin's ear while the audience is applauding loudly. Cronin said he has “no doubt” that Luna made the BS comment; Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “Supt. Luna does not recall ever using that language yesterday.” You can listen for yourself (try some good headphones); here's a version with noise reduction that I found a little clearer; and here's one without. So far I've heard mixed verdicts from those who listen: Some hear one thing, others hear another…

  

Latest school reform ad from opponents hits union issue

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.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Educational forum set on school reform laws and their impact

On Monday, Oct. 15th - that's a week from Monday - the League of Women Voters, Transform Idaho and the AAUW are sponsoring an educational panel discussion on Idaho's school reform referenda; the forum, which is free and open to the public, will be at Centennial High School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. “The objective is to clarify the referendums and the impact of the resulting vote on Idaho's educational system,” the groups said in a news release announcing the event.

The panel will include Ken Burgess, partner at Veritas Advisors and campaign manager of the Yes4Idaho campaign, and Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, representing the “yes” side; and Mike Lanza, chair of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, and Cindy Wilson, government teacher at Centennial High, representing the “no” side. Current perspective on how the laws are working in the Boise and Meridian school districts will be provided by Don Coberly, Boise schools superintendent; A.J. Balukoff, Boise school board president; Eric Exline, Meridian School District community relations director; and Anne Ritter, vice chair of the Meridian School Board.

Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at BSU, will moderate. Those attending are encouraged to arrive by 6:15 p.m.; Centennial High School is located at Cloverdale and McMillan roads in Boise.

School Reform Gets Personal

Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is shown at a Robotics competition in Boise a few years back in this file photo provided by Duane Rasmussen. On Tuesday, Republican Luna and Democrat Brian Cronin engaged in a passionate debate about the three referendums on the November ballot that would nullify Luna's education reforms of 2011.

Here’s how fiery the debate over school reform has gotten in Idaho: After a forum at the City Club of Boise on Tuesday, state Rep. Brian Cronin (pictured), D-Boise, accused state schools Superintendent Tom Luna of grabbing his arm after his opening remarks and berating him. “He grabbed my arm rather forcefully and got in my face and said, ‘That’s the biggest bullshit I’ve ever heard,’ ” Cronin said. “I looked at the people at the lead table and I think they saw that I was visibly alarmed, shaken, but that’s what he said. He grabbed my arm hard enough such that I spilled my water. … When he tried to touch me again, I told him not to touch me.” Luna’s spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “He never used that language. That’s completely inaccurate”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: Is the attempted overthrow of the Luna Laws a personal issue for you?

Fiery debate on school reform laws today…

Here's how fiery the debate between state schools chief Tom Luna and Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, got at the City Club of Boise today: After the debate, Cronin accused Luna of grabbing his arm after his opening remarks and berating him. “He grabbed my arm rather forcefully and got in my face and said, 'That's the biggest bullshit I've ever heard,'” Cronin said. “I looked at the people at the lead table and I think they saw that I was visibly alarmed, shaken, but that's what he said. He grabbed my arm hard enough such that I spilled my water. … When he tried to touch me again, I told him not to touch me.”

Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “He never used that language. That's completely inaccurate.” The exchange wasn't picked up on the event's microphones, and Luna denied afterward that he'd become angry with Cronin at any point during the forum. “I think we both were passionate,” he said.

Luna said, “I was surprised he would use his 12 minutes of comments for personal attacks against me rather than talking about what is in the laws. After his remarks, I leaned over to him and said something to that effect.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Of barns, carpenters and jackasses…

State schools Supt. Tom Luna made a comment shortly before the end of today's City Club of Boise forum on school reform, saying, “Any carpenter can build a barn, any jackass can kick it down.” Asked what he meant by that, Luna said afterward he was repeating a quote that he thought he'd heard attributed to Ronald Reagan; a similar comment is often attributed to Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn. “It's not original to me,” Luna said. “We've waited for almost two years for the opposition that originally called themselves 'reasonable reform' to bring forth reasonable reform, and they've brought nothing. All they've done is attack, attack, attack.”

Luna said he had expected that by now, “Idahoans would be having a debate” between his reform plan and an alternative one from opponents.

Rep. Brian Cronin, asked about Luna's comment, said, “The superintendent is building a rickety barn that is about to fall over anyway. We just need to give it a little nudge. It wasn't a barn that was worth building anyway.”

Debate wraps up with loud appaluse

The City Club of Boise forum has wrapped up with thunderous applause after an extremely lively debate between state schools Supt. Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin over the school reform laws, Props 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot.

Debate: What works, what doesn’t in schools…

Rep. Brian Cronin said national scientific studies have shown no link between merit pay for teachers and improved student achievement. State schools Supt. Tom Luna countered that it's working in New Plymouth. “If you really are interested in the truth, take a look at New Plymouth … they've been doing it for 10 years,” he said.

Asked why the campaign commercials against the reforms haven't focused as much on Prop. 1, the teacher contract bill, Cronin said he thinks it will be addressed. He said the measure removed teachers' ability to talk with districts about issues ranging from curriculum to scheduling as part of annual negotiations; Luna countered that they can still talk about those things in other settings.

Luna said when textbooks first were printed, no one said they were replacing teachers - they were a new tool. Cronin responded, “I don't know a single CEO, a single small business owner who has said you know what the problem is? The problem with kids these days is that they don't understand technology. … Technology's not the challenge.”

Cronin defends dual role as lawmaker, paid consultant

Rep. Brian Cronin was asked how he reconciles his role as a state legislator with his role as a paid consultant for the No on Props 1,2,3 campaign. “I reconcile it this way,” he told the City Club of Boise.  “This is very simple. I have not said a thing as part of this campaign, and yes I am a paid consultant, that I hadn't said previously as a member of the Legislature. And my consitituents are happy that I'm here. They're happy that I'm standing up and fighting these laws that I have been fighting from the very beginning.” He said his work for the campaign might actually hurt his consulting business, by alienating potential customers.

“It isn't necessarily a wise decision as a businessman, but I am that passionate about these issues,” Cronin said. “I wanted to work for this campaign, and yes I am going to fulfill my term in the legislature, because these are things I believe. … My constituents know that they want me representing them, and they want me representing them in this role.”

Technology and its role in schools…

Rep. Brian Cronin, at today's City Club of Boise forum on school reform, said, “Technology plays an important role as a tool, but it is not an end in itself, and it is being treated as such in this. … There is no evidence to suggest that this one-to-one laptop program produces sustainable student achievement.” He called it “a dangerous experiment.”

State schools Supt. Tom Luna responded, “The state of Maine has been doing this one-to-one ratio of students to laptops for 10 years and they start in the 7th grade.” He said, “Technology is not the silver bullet, or it would be the only thing you would find in Students Come First. … We changed the way we manage our labor at the local level, we changed the way we compensate teachers, we changed the way we offer education and educational opportunities.”

Luna: ‘They began to orchestrate against me’

State schools Supt. Tom Luna was asked about a deteriorating relationship between teachers and himself. “This divide is not between teachers and me,” he said. “It is between union leaders. … They spent $185,000 to unseat me, this is the union leaders. They have never dealt with me in good faith. From the day I was elected in 2006 they began to orchestrate and organize against me … (and) feed teachers misinformation.” Said Luna, “There is not a level of distrust between teachers and myself - it's the teachers union that has fostered this.”

Rep. Brian Cronin responded, “Folks, the teachers union is made up of teachers.” He said two-thirds of Idaho teachers belong to the teachers union. “They feel disrespected, they feel ignored.”

City Club debate: Timing of reform plan, alternative proposals…

The first question from the audience was for state schools Supt. Tom Luna, asking why he didn't unveil the reform plan until after he was re-elected in 2010. Luna's response: “I've ran on this platform three times and made it very, very clear about the changes,” he said. “I've tried to bring about the changes in previous legislation. We tried pay for performance before.” Luna said the ideas behind the reform plan have always been in his election promises.

The second question, for Rep. Brian Cronin, asked if voters reject Props 1, 2, and 3, what new legislation will be introduced. Cronin suggested re-examining middle schools, because “anyone who's been through middle school knows that it's a miserable experience,” more teacher mentoring, and higher-quality teacher prep programs. “There are any number of ideas that we could talk about,” he said. “The thing that's so troubling about all this is that we were never asked the question previously.”

Luna countered that opponents made no alternative proposals, making his plan the only one on the table.
  

Cronin on reforms: ‘It’s a bait-and-switch con’

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, in his opening statement today, said the “Students Come First” school reform laws were not reforms. “They turned a temporary fiscal crisis into long-term permanent underfunding,” he said, charging that they were used by political leaders to justify under-funding schools. “The process by which this scheme was concocted violates every principle of good lawmaking,” Cronin said. “It excluded the experts.” As a result, he said, Idaho teacher morale dropped, and the number of Idaho teachers leaving the profession soared. “When teachers are demoralized and devalued, it's Idaho's children who pay the price … as we witness a mass exodus of some of our best and brightest teachers,” Cronin said.

“The so-called Students Come First was never about students,” Cronin declared. “The Luna laws were a fiscal crisis plan, not a reform plan.” He called the reforms a plan for “education on the cheap.”

He said, “Laws that mandate spending don't generate money. Taxes generate money. … The Luna laws created new spending but don't tell us where that money comes from. (Initally), in a rare moment of candor, we were told that that money would actually come from laying off teachers. … Now they just don't say it any more.” He said, “It is a shell game. It is a bait and switch con.”

Said Cronin, “Here's the net effect of the Luna laws. We will have fewer teachers, but more laptops.” Or, he said, districts that don't want to cut teachers will ask local voters for property tax override levies, as close to 80 percent of Idaho's school districts already have. Cronin called those locally approved new property tax levies “a 26 percent tax increase, just since the Luna laws were rolled out.” He said Idaho's electorate has been “voting with their feet and voting with their wallets” to say they want schools better funded.
  

Luna: Laws mean ‘every student has equal access,’ from anywhere in state

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is speaking first at today's City Club of Boise forum. “About 30 states have passed some form of education reform in the past two years,” Luna said. “Education reform in the state of Idaho is absolutely necessary, not because we have bad schools, in fact in the state of Idaho, we have good schools. … But in the world that we live in today, it isn't whether we have good schools, the question is, is good good enough?”

Luna said not enough Idaho high school students are furthering their education after high school, and those who do aren't succeeding. “It should be alarming and unacceptable to all,” he said. He said that's the focus of his “Students Come First” reforms. “As a result of Students Come First, we now have high academic standards in place,” he said. “We didn't have that before.”


He noted that while there's been lots of focus on the reform plans to add technology at high schools, the laws also included funding for technology boosts throughout the schooling system. Luna also pointed to the large number of school districts that applied to be among the first group to get laptop computers for their high school students. “They know that these devices are not replacing teachers, or 85 percent of them would not have volunteered to be first,” Luna said.

He also touted the laws' changes to teacher pay and contracts, including removing seniority from layoff decisions. “Eight in 10 teachers will receive a bonus this year. Why? Because they have worked together to improve a whole school with student achievement,” Luna said. He said once the laws are fully implemented, “Every high school in Idaho is a one-to-one learning environment. … Teachers and students will no longer have to wait their turn for the computer lab because every classroom is a computer lab.” He said the tech boosts will mean that “every student has equal access and opportunity no matter where they live in Idaho, and that just didn't exist before.”

He said, “We accomplished all this without raising anyone's taxes, at any level.”
  

Moderator: Civility urged, no cheers or boos

Moderator Jim Weatherby is welcoming the crowd to the City Club of Boise, but said that first, as a professor, he wanted to lecture the crowd: “One of City Club's highest values is promoting civility,” Weatherby declared. Therefore, he asked the crowd not to applaud, cheer, or express approval or disapproval. He noted that he'll be taking written questions from the audience to pose for the speakers as part of the program, Tom Luna and Brian Cronin.

Weatherby noted that Idaho has only had four other referenda on its ballot in its history; the school reform laws have prompted three referenda on the November ballot this year.
  

Sellout crowd for City Club forum today…

There's a sellout crowd at the City Club of Boise today for the forum on the “Students Come First” school reform laws, featuring state schools Supt. Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin. In addition to the lunch crowd of close to 400, the listening-only seats in back are full too; the crowd includes 85 students from local high schools.

Luna, Cronin to face off today at City Club of Boise over school reforms

Idaho state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, face off today at the City Club of Boise over the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which Luna wrote and of which Cronin is a leading opponent, along with serving as a consultant to the campaign against the laws. Idahoans will be asked in the November election whether they want to keep the laws or not; a yes vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 keeps the laws, a no vote repeals them. I'll be live-blogging the session today.

For a backgrounder on the issues from the Spokesman-Review Election Center, click here.