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Idaho school fees, supply lists challenged as unconstitutional

An Idaho grandfather and former school district superintendent is suing the state of Idaho and all its school districts, charging that cash-strapped schools are violating the Idaho Constitution by increasingly charging fees for what are supposed to be "free, common schools." Russ Joki's twin kindergartner granddaughters were each charged $45 to register for kindergarten this year, and his grandson, a high school junior, had to pay $85 in fees to enroll at Meridian High. But a 1970 Idaho Supreme Court decision specifically found educational fees for public schools unconstitutional in the state. "I don't think it passes the constitutional test at all," Joki said, "and I think someone has to raise that question."

His lawsuit was filed today in 4th District Court in Ada County; it seeks class-action status on behalf of all schoolchildren and parents in the state of Idaho. In addition to Joki, plaintiffs include his grandson, for whom he is legal guardian; his daughter and her twin 5-year-olds; and 15 other individuals from around the state, all grandparents of Idaho public school students.

In addition to charging fees, Joki's lawsuit targets Idaho schools' practice of distributing lists of specific school supplies for parents to purchase, from specific brands of colored pencils and crayons to reams of paper, boxes of tissue and dry-erase markers. "It's occurring statewide," Joki said. "These supply lists are a substitute for essential educational materials that the district needs to provide. Instead, the burden has been placed on parents and patrons." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Ad touting Idaho school reforms tells just part of story…

A new television commercial touting Idaho's controversial school reform laws makes claims that are accurate, but still mislead voters about the impact of the reform laws. That's because they focus on obscure points in two of the three laws, without getting into the overall thrust of the measures. "It's not inaccurate, but it's not focused on the real meat and potatoes of the three propositions that have generated so much controversy," said David Adler, a political scientist and director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. "This is a classic campaign approach where you honeycomb your message with sweets that will appeal to everybody, without having to rehash the controversial measures."

You can read my full ad-watch story here at spokesman.com.

More Idaho teachers left the profession last year…

Idaho teachers are leaving the profession in bigger numbers, the Associated Press reports, with more than 1,800 making their exit last year. More than 957 of the 1,884 teachers who left the profession during the 2011-2012 school year cited "personal reasons;" the departures increased significantly from the previous year, when 1,276 teachers left the profession, and the year before, when 716 exited.

While opponents of state schools Supt. Tom Luna's "Students Come First" school reforms have cited the laws as prompting more teachers to leave, Luna maintains the economy was more of a factor in the departures. His office also noted an increase in the number of individuals seeking an alternative, quicker route to certification as teachers in Idaho in the last year; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

New pro-reform commercial is running statewide, including Spokane-CdA market

The latest campaign commercial in the fight over whether to repeal Idaho's controversial school reform laws is running statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. John Foster, a lobbyist and political consultant who's behind the new "Parents for Education Reform" PAC that's running the ad, declined to identify its financial backers. "We'll file our disclosure reports at the appropriate time, but we're happy to receive enough support to get this ad off the ground, and hopefully do more," Foster said. "This PAC is just one piece of a larger effort to spread the message of education reform in Idaho, and we'll be announcing more about that in the coming days. It's an effort that is not wholly about this campaign or this election season, it's bigger than that and will go beyond and past November."

Foster, a former executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said he's enjoying working with Debbie Field, the PAC's chairwoman and Gov. Butch Otter's campaign manager, who also is a former GOP lawmaker and longtime GOP activist. "Debbie and I have been on opposite sides of the political fence before in campaign season, but we're on the same side in this issue, which is a bipartisan one," Foster said. However, the three reform laws passed the Legislature without a single Democratic vote in favor of any of the three; Republicans were split on the measures.

On Proposition 1, which passed as SB 1108 regarding teacher contracts, every legislative Democrat opposed the bill along with 17 Republicans. On Proposition 2, which passed as SB 1110 regarding merit-pay bonuses, every legislative Democrat opposed the bill along with 21 Republicans. Proposition 3, which passed as SB 1184 on technology and funding, was opposed by every legislative Democrat and 21 legislative Republicans.

Foster declined to name other Democrats involved with the PAC. He said he's been in touch with the "Yes for Education" PAC that was formed as the main campaign organization pushing for support for the measures. His ad focuses on one fairly obscure piece of each of two of the laws: A requirement in the teacher-contract bill to include parent input in teacher evaluations; and funding for up to a year of college credit for some students under the technology law, which also funds laptop computers for all high school students and requires online classes. It also lauds the merit-pay bonus program.

"The overall goal of the ad is to engage voters, engage Idahoans, and tell them about these reforms and remind them that it's critical that if they want these reforms in place, they need to go vote in November," Foster said.

Otter on new ad: ‘That’s the one John Foster is running’

Gov. Butch Otter, asked about the new PAC that's running a TV commercial in favor of the "Students Come First" school reform laws, said, "That's the one that John Foster is running." Otter said, "There were other groups that came to us. … It was sort of a division of labor, if you will." The governor said he's involved with the group "Yes for Idaho Education," the main PAC campaigning in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, but other groups also are getting involved, "even private citizens, like Frank VanderSloot," Otter said. "He does his 'Community Page,'" VanderSloot's customary full-page newspaper ads. "That's independent."

Otter said Foster, a former aide to then-Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, "came in early on and  he said, 'I think what you've done is great. I've got kids in school.'" Otter said, "He initiated some discussions with Tom Luna and with myself."

New PAC forms, starts advertising in favor of school reform measures

A new PAC called "Parents for Education Reform" has filed paperwork with the Idaho Secretary of State's office, and is running a new TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the education reform referenda. Debbie Field, former drug czar for Gov. Butch Otter and his former campaign chief, is listed as the PAC's chairwoman; its treasurer is Cordell Chigbrow, who also served as treasurer for Otter's re-election campaign. The Idaho Secretary of State's office reported that the new PAC filed its paperwork on Sept. 21; Field couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The main PAC that Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna formed earlier to push the three measures, "Yes for Idaho Education," said it had no involvement in the new TV commercial. "I appreciate the help," said Ken Burgess, spokesman for Yes for Idaho Education. "There's lots of different groups out there trying to be helpful."

A "yes" vote on the three propositions would uphold the three school reform laws that Luna and Otter pushed through the Legislature in 2011; a "no" vote would repeal them.

Boise School Board urges ‘no’ vote on Props 1,2,3, Otter urges ‘yes’ vote

The elected Boise School Board has announced it's endorsing a "no" vote on all three school reform referenda on the November ballot, Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Board President AJ Balukoff said, "We have an obligation as the governing body of the Boise School District to use research, best practice and data to provide the best education possible for our students. This includes communicating the implications of new laws for our students, parents, teachers, and our community."

The board, in a news release, said, "The Students Come First legislation restricts what school boards are allowed to negotiate with their teachers, establishes a pay-for-performance bonus system for teachers, diverts funding from local districts to pay for laptops for all high school students, and requires online courses for graduation." Balukoff said, "These three laws politicize public education by taking authority and discretion from locally elected school boards and concentrating it in the Office of the State Superintendent." You can read the board's full statement on the laws here.

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter has issued a statement urging a "yes" vote on the three measures. In response to a television commercial that's being aired statewide by the laws' opponents, Otter, in a written statement sent to KTVB-TV, wrote, "I didn't sign an unfunded mandate into law, and I didn't sign a tax increase into law. What I signed into law was a way to ensure equity and excellence for our students, opportunities for our teachers and accountability for local school trustees. There's plenty of truthful information available to help voters understand why it's important to vote YES for education reform. Don't believe the union bosses."

First statewide TV spot of 2012 Idaho campaigns includes questionable claims

The hottest election issue of the season in Idaho - possible repeal of the state's controversial new school reform laws - has yielded the first statewide TV campaign commercial, and it makes some questionable claims. "Proposition 3 replaces teachers with computers by requiring that taxpayers fund laptops for high school students," the ad says. "The Legislature failed to fully fund the laptops required by Proposition 3, so our property taxes could increase."

Actually, one of the main things the reform laws did was write formulas into state law guaranteeing funding for the laptops into future years. The laws made the laptop program a new "statutory requirement" within Idaho's public schools budget, just like busing, border contracts or salaries and benefits.

"Ironically, the fact that those laptops are funded strengthens their first argument, that laptops are replacing teachers, or funds that otherwise could be devoted to teachers," said political scientist David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. "In a lot of ways, it's unfortunate, because they have some pretty good arguments on their side, but they've just undercut their position by misstating the issue of legislative funding." You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

Luna: ‘No one wants to pay these bonuses more than I do’

Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna issued this statement:

“We are aware the laws would not be officially repealed until the Board of Canvassers meets. We continue to work with the Attorney General’s office to ensure we not only have the legal authority at the state to distribute these bonuses, but our local school districts also have the legal authority at the local level to pay bonuses to the Idaho teachers who earned and deserve these bonuses. As our conversations with legal counsel have highlighted, the law contains multiple dates: November 15 as well as December 15. I have been fighting for better compensation for Idaho teachers through base salaries and pay-for-performance for 15 years now, and no one wants to pay these bonuses more than I do. I will find any way legally possible to distribute this money to Idaho’s teachers, not just this year but every year. The only reason we are having these discussions today and facing uncertainty regarding this additional pay for teachers is because the teachers’ union put Proposition 2 on the ballot. They are the only group that opposes pay-for-performance, and while their reasons for opposing it continue to change, their opposition remains the same. The fact is that if the union is successful in repealing Proposition 2, Idaho teachers will not have the opportunity to earn up to $8,000 a year in bonuses.”

It’s the law: Turns out teachers will get first merit-pay bonuses, regardless of election result Nov. 6

Here's a new wrinkle in the ongoing dispute about timing of the first merit-pay bonuses to teachers under the new "Students Come First" school reform laws, in which the Idaho Education Association has been accusing state schools Supt. Tom Luna of holding the bonuses hostage, to be paid out only if the reform laws are upheld; and Luna has been insisting he's constrained by timelines and can't send the bonuses out before the election. Turns out, it actually doesn't matter. Teachers who earned the bonuses last year will get them this fall regardless of the outcome of the referenda vote on Nov. 6. Here's why:

State law requires the bonuses to be sent out on or before the Nov. 15 state payment to school districts. Because the reform laws all had emergency clauses added to them making them take effect immediately - even if they're later overturned by referendum - they're in effect now. If voters turn down the referenda, voting no on the propositions and repealing the reform laws, that move doesn't take effect instantly on the day of the election. Instead, under Idaho Code 34-1813, the repeal of the laws would take effect when the state Board of Canvassers certifies the results of the election, and the governor issues a proclamation declaring those results. The law says the measures would be "in full force and effect as the law of the state of Idaho from the date of said proclamation."

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, asked about the process, said the Board of Canvassers, which consists of himself, the state controller, and the state treasurer, is scheduled to meet Nov. 21st to certify the results of the Nov. 6 election. "I think everybody was wondering that," Ysursa said. "We would prepare this proclamation for the governor to sign, and it's prepared for the same day."

Ysursa said all the questions about the timing likely are arising because Idaho's law really was written with initiatives in mind, which are citizen-initiated laws, rather than referenda, which are citizen-initiated votes on whether or not to accept laws passed by the Legislature. Typically, the filing of a referendum would "suspend it from ever going into operation," until after the voters had their say, he explained. But under Idaho Supreme Court precedent, an emergency clause trumps that, allowing a referendum to take effect in the meantime, and then be either upheld or repealed. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State Ed Dept. sends bonus data to districts

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The state Department of Education has posted data online telling school districts which teachers have earned a bonus under a new merit pay plan. Districts were notified Wednesday they'll have 30 days to review and appeal the data used to calculate the pay-for-performance bonuses scheduled to go out Nov. 15. The bonuses, however, are part of a reform package being challenged at the ballot box and must first pass voter muster Nov. 6. The timeline is prompting outcry from critics of the reforms authored by state schools chief Tom Luna. The Idaho Education Association wrote Luna last week asking him to promptly disburse the bonus funding. Luna's spokeswoman says he hasn't yet answered the IEA's letter but plans to respond, and will maintain that the bonus timeline cannot be changed.

The timing of merit-pay bonuses under new school reform laws…

It turns out that state law doesn't require the state Department of Education to wait until after the November election before sending out merit-pay bonuses to teachers under the "Students Come First" school reform laws after all. A bill that passed the 2012 Legislature, SB 1329, changed the reform law to require that the bonuses go out "by no later than" the third payment of state funds to school districts, which goes out Nov. 15, rather than the previous wording in the law, which said they should be "made as part of" that payment. Nevertheless, the state Department of Education maintains current timelines would prevent the payments from going out earlier anyway.

"We cannot send data out and have it be incorrect," department spokeswoman Meliss McGrath told the Associated Press. "We are talking about people's money here, and we have to get it right." Opponents of the reforms have accused Luna of holding the payments "hostage" to try to persuade voters not to repeal the laws on Nov. 6.

Meanwhile, the state has again delayed the release of data telling teachers whether they've earned a bonus under the new law. It had originally been scheduled to go out Sept. 1, but the department said Friday it's being held up because school districts were given more time to appeal student achievement results. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Cameron: If voters reject school reforms, lawmakers would still put the $$ toward education

I quizzed JFAC Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, today about the what-if question I explored in my Sunday column: What happens if voters in November reject Propositions 1, 2 and 3, repealing state Superintendent Tom Luna’s Students Come First school reform laws, which already are in the process of being phased in?

A rejection of the three referenda would leave roughly $33 million sitting appropriated but unallocated in the public school budget for the current year; if lawmakers took no action during their 2013 session, it'd flow into the state's Public Education Stabilization Fund at the end of the school year. "I think we're still trying to get our arms around what would happen with the funds," Cameron said. "The Legislature's going to act one way or the other, and we're going to appropriate the funds one way or another." He added, "I think JFAC and the Legislature would certainly address it. Putting the funds toward salaries is very plausible, particularly the money that was allocated for pay for performance." Other portions could go to discretionary funding for school districts, he said. "To me, those would be reasonable expectations."

Cameron added, "I know the Legislature's not going to sit back and say … this money isn't going to be allocated towards education. It's going to be applied to education in a way that's appropriate."

What if voters say no to school reforms?

There’s a what-if question being debated in Idaho politics that matters quite a bit: What if voters in November reject Propositions 1, 2 and 3, repealing state Superintendent Tom Luna’s Students Come First school reform laws? The laws, passed in 2011, already are being phased in.

Here's how the process would work: If the three measures are defeated, much of the $60.5 million now tabbed for laptop computers, teacher merit-pay bonuses, tech upgrades and other Students Come First reforms in the current year would sit unallocated within the public school budget. Some would be used to reinstate programs the laws eliminated, such as a 99 percent funding “floor” for school districts that lose large numbers of students from one year to the next, and a $14.8 million allocation to teacher and administrator salaries. If lawmakers took no further action, the remaining money, roughly $33 million, would flow into Idaho’s public education stabilization fund, a state savings account for schools, at the end of the school year.

But when the Legislature convenes in January, it could redirect those funds through a supplemental appropriation rather than just let them sit all year. If lawmakers sent the money out as discretionary funds to school districts, districts would decide how to spend it. The portion of Idaho’s public school budget that goes out to districts as discretionary funds has been sharply cut in recent years. Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee, asked about the process, said: “They could do that. They could put it into salaries. They could even take it out of the public schools budget and put it somewhere else in the state budget.”

You can read my full Sunday column here, including what both sides are saying about the what-if question, and what it portends. With GOP nominee Mitt Romney all but guaranteed to carry Republican-dominated Idaho, the presidential race is far from the hottest thing on Idaho’s general election ballot – instead, it’s the school laws.

School reform foes respond to Luna, say money should go to school districts

Mike Lanza, chairman of "Vote No on Propositions 1, 2, 3," the group urging repeal of the "Students Come First" school reform laws in three ballot measures, had this response to state schools Supt. Tom Luna's question today on how opponents of the laws would manage the "disruption" to Idaho's public school funding that would occur if the measures are defeated in November:

"Consistent with what we've said all along, we want to see control of local schools returned to local school boards and educators. So the money that has been appropriated for public schools should rightly go to public schools, but without those strings attached. Our schools need those resources. They've been short-changed for too many years."

The defeat of the three measures would leave the funds now tabbed for laptop computers, teacher merit-pay bonuses and other "Students Come First" reforms unallocated within the public school budget; if lawmakers took no further action, it would flow into Idaho's public education stabilization fund, a state savings account for schools, at the end of the school year. But when the Legislature convenes in January, it could redirect those funds through a supplemental appropriation, rather than just let them sit all year; if it sent the money out as discretionary funds to school districts, districts would decide how to spend it. Legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee, asked about the process, said, "They could do that. They could put it into salaries. They could even take it out of the public schools budget and put it somewhere else in the state budget."

Said Lanza, "I do believe that the local school districts are best able to decide how to run their schools. And if the state allocated funds to them and allowed them decide how to spend it, I think they'd be a lot better off than with the handcuffs the Luna laws placed on them."

Luna, when he unveiled his budget request for the state's schools for next year earlier today, said he thought schools would see a major disruption if the referenda are voted down and the reform laws overturned. "You have districts right now that are under contract to pay for technology that they will not be able to pay for," he said. Luna said he thought opponents should have proposed alternatives or changes to the reform laws he championed, rather than attempting to repeal them at the ballot box. "They chose to go at this with a meat ax and create such a disruption to our schools," he said.

Lanza said, "It sounds to me like Superintendent Luna is complaining that it's greatly inconvenient for him and his office that the people of Idaho have decided they want the final say on his laws. His problem seems to be with the democratic process. There are many of us in the state, as evidenced by how many signatures we collected in a short time, who think that Tom Luna is the one who has created this disruption in the schools and it's already under way, and that we're going to be better off once we repeal these laws."

Luna calls for 5% budget boost for schools next year, decries ballot measures

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna released his budget request today for the state's schools for next year, calling for a 5.1 percent, $64 million increase in state funding. Luna said he met with stakeholder groups over the summer, including the Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho Education Association, Idaho Association of School Business Officials and others, to formulate the request; it reflects some of those groups' common priorities, he said, including "backfilling" the 1.67 percent cut in salary funds for teachers and administrators that was imposed in 2011 under the "Students Come First" school reform laws. Restoring that funding next year would mean a $14.8 million increase in base salaries for Idaho teachers, administrators and classified staff from this year's level, Luna said; those base salaries still would remain below 2009 levels, however.

Luna emphasized that the budget proposal fully funds all the reform programs under "Students Come First," including a $61 million teacher merit-pay bonus program, up from $38.8 million this year, and phasing in laptop computers for all high school students. Under the plan, teachers are to get the computers this fall; the first third of Idaho high school students would get them in the fall of 2013.

The budget request also calls for "unfreezing" one of two years on the state's teacher salary pay grid to provide scheduled increases for teachers who have additional years of experience; that change would cost $6.2 million. Luna said he hopes to remove the other frozen experience step on the grid the following year. He's also proposing a 2 percent increase in discretionary funds to school districts; and small increases in the current level of funding for information technology staff at school districts and for remediation for students falling behind.

Luna held a roundtable meeting with reporters to release the budget request, which now goes to Gov. Butch Otter. But he said it would all change if voters in November reject the "Students Come First" laws by passing three referenda, Propositions 1, 2 and 3. If the measures fail, he said, "Until the Legislature comes to town, we'd have no legal authority to distribute those funds."

Luna hasn't formulated an alternate plan on how to proceed if the reforms are overturned, which would redirect the money for merit-pay bonuses, laptops and other "Students Come First" programs; that money still could only be spent on education. Luna suggested asking opponents of the reform laws, who collected more than 70,000 signatures to place the three measures on the ballot. "I'm very curious as to what their plan is for managing this disruption," he said. "We've made it very clear in the past that you cannot cut school budgets in the middle of the school year, and that's what this amounts to." You can see Luna's full budget request here; click below to read his news release.

Teacher bonus money on the line in school reform referendum

As Idaho voters decide on a sweeping education overhaul this November, teachers opposing the reforms may find themselves in a bind at the ballot box, the AP reports: By rejecting the changes, they could also be turning down a performance bonus after years of reduced or stagnant salaries. Idaho introduced merit pay under the reforms approved in 2011 and teachers worked toward those financial incentives last year. But the bonuses won't be paid out until Nov. 15, nine days after the referendum, and state officials say they can't distribute the money if the laws are repealed. The timeline is prompting outcry from the state's teachers union, which is fighting to overturn the reforms authored by Idaho schools superintendent Tom Luna; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Both sides dispute each others’ ads as school reform campaign launches

The campaign working to overturn Idaho's neducation reforms has launched a new radio advertisement calling a laptop program required under the plan an "unfunded mandate" that will require schools to spend millions of dollars they don't have, the AP reports, but the ad's claim that the laptops are unfunded conflicts with the $2.5 million lawmakers set aside to pay for the devices this fall when they'll go to every high school teacher. Students will start getting the laptops in 2013 under the reforms by public schools chief Tom Luna.

The fight over the three laws in Luna's reform package is heating up with less than three months left before voters decide whether to keep or ditch the sweeping changes that limited collective bargaining, phased out teacher tenure, introduced merit pay and put more technology in the classroom while requiring students to take online classes; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

State says laptop purchases for schools still on track despite bidding snag

State officials say the plan to supply the first laptop computers of a multi-year phase-in aimed at getting one to every Idaho high school student is on track for fall, despite hitting a snag last month when the state canceled bidding for insufficient response and instead opted to negotiate directly with providers. "We are still on track to meet the program's original delivery objectives with the first wave of mobile computing devices reaching schools this fall," the state Department of Administration advised the state Department of Education ina memo late last week, the AP reports; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. 

Only three bids on school laptops, and only one qualifies, so bidding abandoned…

After only three companies submitted bids to supply Idaho high schools with laptop computers over the next five years, and only one of those bids met the qualifications, the state is abandoning the bidding process and instead will negotiate with providers of computers and services, the Associated Press reports. Under Idaho's "Students Come First" school reform law, Idaho plans to spend $60 million over the next five years to achieve a "1-to-1" ratio of laptop computers to high school students; teachers are up to receive the first laptops this fall, with the first batch going to students in the fall of 2013 - if voters don't overturn the law in a November referendum vote.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the department is still confident it can get the first laptops to teachers this fall despite the bid setback; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Opponents of ‘Students Come First’ school reform laws kick off campaign

More than 100 people gathered on the steps outside Boise High School today to kick off a statewide campaign against the "Students Come First" school reform laws, which are up for possible repeal in three referendum measures on the November ballot. "We urge Idahoans to vote 'No' on all three propositions," said Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two and campaign chairman. "These laws take us backward, not forward. They make it harder for teachers to do their jobs effectively. They are bad for children, bad for teachers and bad for Idaho."

Gov. Butch Otter already has formed a PAC to fight to preserve the laws, and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the laws' author, pushed hard for them at last weekend's state Republican Party convention.

Lanza, drawing applause, said, "This is a non-partisan campaign. We have people from all political persuasions who support this effort. Education is important to everybody." Speakers at the campaign launch included Boise mother of four Maria Greeley, who said her son struggled in an online class last summer and ultimately opted to withdraw and take the class in person.  She decried the new requirement for online classes as a high school graduation requirement. "This one-size-fits-all mandate hurts our students and diminishes the quality of education," Greeley said.

Nampa 5th-grade teacher Sonia Galaviz said last year was the most difficult of her teaching career. "My classroom size jumped from 27 to 35," she said. "I had no aides. … However last year we did get various technological devices. … We would have done anything to turn those … into a live human teacher."

The reform laws include phasing in a laptop computer for every high school student, a new focus on online learning, a merit-pay bonus program for teachers based partly on test scores, and rolling back teachers' collective bargaining rights. Any new funds in the public school budget in future years would go first to those new programs, before other expenses such as teacher salaries.

Teacher talks fail in at least 21 Idaho school districts, under new reform law

At least 21 Idaho school districts are unilaterally imposing contract terms on teachers this week, after failing to reach agreement with local teachers unions - an option for districts under the state's controversial "Students Come First" school reform law.
In the Lakeland School District in Kootenai County, members of the Lakeland Education Association voted 96 percent "no" on the district's last offer on salaries and benefits for the coming year, which, like the past four years, includes no base salary increase, but did offer some small thaws in the multi-year pay freeze. "The law is pretty strict now," said Lakeland business manager Tom Taggart. "So pretty much what they rejected, we just turned around to the board and the board approved it."

Other North Idaho school districts unilaterally imposing contract terms this week include Kellogg, Mullan and Wallace; in southern Idaho, they range from small districts like Middleton and Cascade to larger ones like Idaho Falls, Nampa and Caldwell. Carrie Scozzaro, a high school art teacher and outgoing president of the Lakeland association, said teachers feel like they're no longer being listened to as professionals. "There's that sort of hopelessness of not being part of the process and being accused of being part of the problem, which is frustrating," she said.

The Students Come First laws included rolling back most collective bargaining rights for teachers; limiting contract negotiations to salary and benefits and making all contract terms expire each year; and shifting funds from salaries to merit-pay bonuses, a new focus on online learning, and laptop computers for high school students. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who proposed the reforms, said it's good news that just 21 of Idaho's 130 school districts and charter schools weren't able to reach agreement by strict new deadlines. "They said there would be strikes, there would be walkouts, there would be lawsuits - none of that has happened," Luna said Wednesday. "If you measure this against the doomsday scenario that they painted, I think this is very positive news." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter, Luna name Terrell, Horman and Shirley to anti-referendum campaign group

Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna have named leaders for their campaign to fight three voter referenda in November that seek to overturn the "Students Come First" school reform laws Luna and Otter championed in 2011. The controversial laws roll back teachers' collective bargaining rights and shift existing school funding to a new focus on online learning, laptop computers for every student, and a new performance-pay bonus system for teachers, along with other changes. Opponents gathered more than 74,000 signatures to place the referenda on the ballot, but follow-up bills added emergency clauses so that the reform laws took effect in the meantime; that would stop if voters decide in November to repeal them. Yesterday, the State Department of Education announced the 32 school districts that will be up first to receive laptops, with teachers to get them this fall and students in the fall of 2013.

The new "Yes for Idaho Education" group will be co-chaired by state Board of Education member Milford Terrell and Idaho Falls school board member Wendy Horman, with retiring state Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, as treasurer. Lobbyist Ken Burgess is coordinating the effort. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Burgess said Otter plans a formal launch for the group in the coming days.

What ‘Yes’/’No’ Mean For Referenda

Looking ahead to the November 2012 general election, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said there will be three referenda on the ballot on the “Students Come First” school reform plan. “Folks should remember that a 'yes' vote would be in favor of the legislation that was passed by the Legislature dealing with Students Come First,” Ysursa told JFAC. “If you're against the legislation and do not like it and wish that it be repealed, then the person would cast a 'no' vote. I think it's going to be pretty clear”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise.

Question: Have you already made up your mind re: how you're going to vote on the referendum against Tom Luna's education reform that will be on the November ballot?

New York Times looks at Idaho’s school-tech reforms, teacher objections

As part of its series "Grading the Digital School," the New York Times has taken a look at Idaho's school technology reforms, in an article headlined "Teachers Resist High-Tech Push in Idaho Schools." Reports the Times, "This change is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved." You can read the full article here.

Luna: Professional development funding key to school reform plan’s success

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna said today that he's not yet decided whether he'll revise his budget proposal for public schools for next year to increase funding for professional development, as recommended by a 38-member technology task force today. Luna noted that he supported the recommendation, which was approved unanimously. Luna said his "Students Come First" school reform plan already contemplates an ongoing commitment of nearly $4 million to professional development for teachers each year. "It's historic amounts," he said. "What we've learned is that we need to make sure that we have enough revenue, because if we don't do proper amounts and the proper kinds of professional development, then Students Come First will not be as successful as we envision."

Stefani Cook, chair of the Classroom Technology Integration subcommittee of the task force and Idaho's 2011 teacher of the year, said, "From a teacher's standpoint, the professional development will be the key to the success of Students Come First." She said, "We also know that the most effective professional development is teachers teaching other teachers. If I'm using technology in my classroom, if I can share that with the other teachers in my building, that is so successful." She added, "Of course more funding would most definitely be needed and most definitely be helpful, but we are very thankful for the funding that is in the formula right now."

Luna, who gathered with the four subcommittee chairs to talk about the recommendations after the panel unanimously approved all of them, said, "This group is not window-dressing." Added Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, who chaired the "One-to-One Governance" subcommittee, "These recommendations come with such a great amount of thought and work and effort that I think we would be foolish to ignore them. The learning that has taken place here is profound. … I think that the Legislature will definitely pay attention.

Luna said the task force's work is giving him confidence as the state approaches a 2012 referendum vote on whether to dump the whole Students Come First program. "Not every student has had access to the same technology, the same types of information and learning opportunities - we've accomplished that through Students Come First," he said. "Just as this committee came to that realization, I think the more people see these laws being implemented and the positive effect they have, that come November of 2012, I'm very confident the voters of Idaho will say this is the path we need to stay on." Click below for a full report on today's recommendations from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Tech task force approves all recommendations unanimously

The "Students Come First" technology task force has voted unanimously in favor of the recommendations from its first subcommittee, on "One-to-One Governance and Instructional Integration," without discussion.

One the second one, the "Classroom Technology Integration" subcommittee, Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, offered a substitute motion, which was seconded by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, to add that the task force recommends that the Legislature "consider increasing funding for professional development," and also to ask Idaho's colleges of education to work to assure that pre-service training includes classroom technology integration.

"I think that this report is really good, but there is a problem with adequate funding," Jaquet said. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, "State dollars are very few and very precious." All the task force can do is recommend, he said. "We certainly can't try to commit the Legislature to spending them." State schools Superintendent Tom Luna said the "Students Come First" plan anticipated spending nearly $4 million a year on professional development. But, he said, "We've learned from other states that a critical component of the successful implementation of technology is professional development, and ongoing professional development." Jaquet's motion then won unanimous approval.

The task force then approved the third and fourth subcommittees' recommendations unanimously. "This has been historic work, and I'm very pleased with the work of the committee," Luna said.

Grover: ‘Some interest brewing’ from online course providers

Andy Grover, Melba School District superintendent, is giving the final subcommittee report to the Students Come First technology task force, this one on online learning implementation. Grover said his panel recommends that funding for online courses paid out to providers through "fractional ADA" should be by credit hour. It's also backing the idea of an online portal where parents could see what online classes are available for their students. "Something we've spent a ton of time on was talking about the quality of an online course … what makes it a good online course," he said. The panel sent out a request for information to more than 4,000 online course providers. "We don't know exactly what kind of feedback we're going to get from these different entities, but we do know that there is some interest brewing out there on it," he said. "That's exciting for us."

The subcommittee also is calling for a review by the state Department of Education of the differences in funding between online courses and regular courses.

Recommendation: Idaho should give kids laptops, not tablets

Idaho should get the same laptop computer for all students and teachers statewide, Jayson Ronk, chair of the Platform, Specifications and Procurement subcommittee of the technology task force, told the task force this morning. "Our recommendations I think are fairly straightforward … on this device and procuring it," said Ronk, vice president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry business lobbying group. "We did want to make a a recommendation that it be a laptop rather than a pad. … We believe that a laptop is the best way to go right now. That does not lock us in forever, but we think for this go-round that's the best option."

The group also is calling for a managed service to provide and maintain the computers, under the "one throat to choke model. Said Ronk, "It's statewide for the simple purchasing power for the state." The subcommittee also concurred with the first subcommittee that phase-in should be to entire high schools, rather than one grade level at a time.

Recommendation: More than triple professional development hours for teachers

Stefani Cook, chair of the Classroom Technology Integration subcommittee of the technology task force and 2011 Idaho teacher of the year, said her panel recommends developing a "comprehensive plan clearly explaining and linking the various components of Students Come First and the timeline for its implementation," addressing one-to-one computers, wireless Internet, classroom technology integration, online learning, the state's new longitudinal data system, Schoolnet, common core state standards, teacher and administrator evaluation, student assessment and more. "If there's not a comprehensive plan, how will this ever come together?" Cook asked.

The group also is recommending more than tripling professional development hours for teachers within the school calendar; and distributing technology integration funds to districts based on the state's school funding formula on a specific schedule, with the largest payments coming in the fall and smaller ones in the spring.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, expressed concern about increasing professional development hours that take teachers out of the classroom from a maximum of 22 hours to a maximum of 72 hours. "I'm always concerned about the number of classroom hours that a teacher really isn't in the classroom," Jaquet said. Cook responded, "To effectively integrate technology, teachers are going to have to learn how to do it, but they're going to need some time." She said the additional training will make the teachers more effective when they are with students.

Linda Clark, Meridian schools superintendent, questioned how districts could pay for it. "The bottom line is we currently have no resources to deliver this," she said. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, "That would represent a considerable financial commitment on the part of the state if we were to fund that." Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, called it "a key piece of whether this succeeds or fails."