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After its 7-1 vote to repeal the requirement that every Idaho student take two online courses to graduate from high school, the State Board of Education today voted unanimously, with no discussion, to repeal its rules covering “fractional ADA,” a funding scheme that was part of Proposition 3 that automatically diverted state funds from school districts to online course providers, if students opted to take up to half their high school course load online, whether or not their districts approved.
That was part of the “Students Come First” reform plan's push for a new focus on online learning; it also included a failed proposal to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student, at a cost of more than $182 million over the next eight years. Unlike the online graduation requirement, the board had no choice on this matter; legally, once the “Students Come First” laws were repealed, the board's fractional ADA rules had to go, too. “Fractional ADA” refers to Average Daily Attendance, which is the basis on which school districts receive their state funding, as it's tied through a complex formula to the number of students; the law diverted a fraction of the school district's funding, depending on how many online courses a student chose to take, to the online course provider.
You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on today's state board action on Students Come First.
It was Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna himself who made the motion at the state Board of Education this morning to repeal the rule requiring that every Idaho high school student take at least two online classes to graduate from high school. “Proposition 3 was overturned by the voters,” Luna said. “Overturning Proposition 3 in and of itself did not remove the two.” But, he said, “Because of the actions of the voters on Nov. 6th … the perception in the public definitely was that the language on the ballot itself made a reference to the online graduation requirement, and so I think it's proper that we remove that as part of the pending rule.”
His motion to repeal the rule passed on a 7-1 vote, with just board member Emma Atchley objecting.
“My biggest concern is that if we do not go forward with the online requirement, and we spend a year deciding whether we're going to have it or how we're going to have it, and we all end up wanting it in the end anyway, we've just lost another year,” she said. “I understand the political reality, but I think it's very important that we do not in the end say that we shouldn't have at least some online learning.”
Board member Rod Lewis said, “I hope that we do have the opportunity to talk further about this issue. If you really look at what's happening in post-secondary institutions and the change that is occurring there, I think it is going to be increasingly important that we have students at the end of the day know how to take classes online effectively. That will be an increasing component of their post-secondary education and our goal is to prepare students for that time.”
Board member Richard Westerberg said, “All that being said, and I agree with all of that, the vote was not equivocal. It was a pretty strong vote from the populace, and it was very specific the way it was listed on the ballot. … I think … we need to reaffirm what the voters told us.”
Board member Don Soltman agreed; he chaired the board's subcommittee that set the two-courses rule. “The committee of the board that looked at this looked solely at coming up with a number of online requirements,” he said. “Without exception, every hearing that we had across the state, the issue always came up of … opposition to the law itself. And as we addressed those publics when we met, we explained to them that the law was in place, that the charge of the committee was only to identify the number of courses required under the law. But I can say without hesitation, at every hearing there was opposition to the law expressed.”
Luna said a “different process” is needed on the issue. “I do believe we made the right decision today,” he said.
Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls, president of the Idaho State Board of Education, said what the voters said last week “matters a great deal.” He said, “If people aren't satisfied with what we're doing, they're not going to support further change.”
The board will hold a special meeting Monday to vote on a series of rule changes, including possibly repealing the requirement that Idaho high school students take two online courses to graduate from high school; doing away with a funding scheme that automatically diverts school districts funds to online course providers if students opt to take courses online, with or without their school district's permission; and considering whether to reconsider rules regarding teacher and principal evaluations. Those follow voters' overwhelming rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, repealing the “Students Come First” school reform laws that lawmakers enacted in 2011.
During the campaign, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the author of the “Students Come First” laws, said repeatedly that the online graduation requirement wouldn't go away even if voters rejected Proposition 3, because it was in a state board rule.
Edmunds said, “I still believe that online education is part of the future. I am not certain that the two credits is necessarily the answer. It creates a one size fits all approach.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
‘Fractional ADA’ funding scheme diverting school funds to online providers also up for repeal Monday
There also are two other rule changes on the State Board of Education's agenda for Monday's special meeting that are a result of the rejection of the “Students Come First” laws by voters: One regarding “fractional ADA,” and another regarding teacher and principal evaluations. The agenda calls for fractional ADA to be repealed, while the evaluation issue may wait for input from stakeholders.
“Fractional ADA” refers to Average Daily Attendance, which is the basis on which school districts receive their state funding, as it's tied through a complex formula to the number of students. Under “fractional ADA,” which was repealed in Proposition 3 by voters last week, a portion of Idaho school districts' state funding is automatically diverted to an online course provider, if students or parents choose to take some of their courses online. The “Students Come First” laws allowed students to make that choice for up to half their high school course load, with or without the permission of their school district.
State Board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said that rule is legally required to be repealed, now that the state law authorizing the payments scheme has been repealed by voters. State Board Chairman Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls said, “That actually was the subject of discussion many times with superintendents and administrators and even with teachers, trying to understand what impact that had on them. It has a much deeper impact that I originally thought.” Said Edmunds, “The funding issues are very significant.”
The original “Students Come First” laws passed in 2011 allowed students to choose to take their entire high school course load online at state expenses under the fractional ADA formula; a 2012 revision cut that back to half their course load.
The Idaho State Board of Education has set a special meeting for Monday, at which it could decide to repeal a rule requiring all Idaho students to take at least two online courses to graduate from high school, now that the “Students Come First” law that directed the board to make the rule has been repealed by voters.
“There isn't a legal requirement, because the board has the authority to set administrative rules and to set graduation requirements,” said board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney. “That having been said, the board is well aware of the outcome of the election and this board has been very in tune with public input.”
The board's agenda includes a pending rule to modify the graduation requirement, removing controversial requirements that at least one of the courses be “asynchronous,” meaning the course is delivered entirely online and teachers and students participate on their own schedules. That requirement drew opposition from school boards, school administrators and Idaho school districts; state lawmakers voted in in their last legislative session to do away with it.
The board has two options on Monday, Whitney said: Approve the pending change to the rule, or reconsider the whole rule and do away with the online graduation requirement. The board's agenda packet for Monday's meeting includes this note: “The part of the question posed to the voters in Proposition 3 clearly included the repeal of online learning as a graduation requirement. While the Board has the authority to promulgate rules setting minimum high school graduation requirements, the failure of proposition three removed the statutory requirement that they include online learning for the class of 2016.”
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has announced that under the now-repealed “Students Come First” laws, teachers in 499 schools across the state will receive bonuses for their work last school year, while those in 155 schools will not. Data for 12 schools still is in the works. The bonuses are going out on the basis of student achievement by school, measured partly by test scores. In the Boise School District, for example, teachers at North Junior High will get $234,955 in bonuses, while teachers at South Junior High will get nothing. Teachers at Highlands Elementary School will split $78,000 in bonuses, while those at Garfield, Whitney and Hawthorne elementaries will get nothing. Every high school in the district qualified for bonuses for its teachers, except for Frank Church High School, the district's alternative school.
Luna said about eight in 10 Idaho teachers will get bonuses under the program, with the average around $2,000. You can see the complete list here, by school.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is reaching out to the opponents of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws, including the leaders of the Idaho Education Association; they've been invited to an initial meeting with the governor's staff tomorrow. “I can confirm there is going to be a meeting,” said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary. Otter won't be there himself, as he's attending a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas today through Thursday at which governors are discussing their options on health care reform in the wake of last week's election, but Otter will be represented at tomorrow's meeting by his senior special assistant on education, Roger Brown.
“This isn't about a specific bill or piece of legislation - it's about a conversation and developing a road map on how we can continue improving our education system,” Hanian said. “This will be the first formal meeting since the election. We started reaching out to them last week.” Hanian said the governor plans to reach out to all stakeholders on school improvement, after the overwhelming voter rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2 and 3. “The people spoke,” Hanian said, as far as those measures. “We need to continue discussion about improving our education system in the state.”
Mike Lanza, chairman of the campaign that successfully overturned controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws, reacted with suspicion today to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's call for collaboration on new reform laws. “His entire track record is not one of collaboration, and we believe his credibility is what it is because of that,” Lanza said, noting that as the referendum campaign was gathering signatures, Luna and lawmakers added “clearly unnecessary” emergency clauses to the controversial laws. “He's not the person to lead this time. He should endorse a process that is run from outside of his department.”
Lanza said, “I would urge the Legislature and Superintendent Luna to refrain from trying to pass anything quickly this year, because if they do, I think they will again raise the ire of the public.” He said Idaho must “de-politicize this process and have it driven from the ground up. I'm talking about parents, teachers, administrators, members of school boards, business leaders, the very coalition of people that we've already begun to build. We believe that that's the way to really give credibility to this process and get buy-in from the public, not by having it driven by the superintendent whose plan has been discredited by the voters.”
Meanwhile, Luna, the first non-educator to head Idaho's public schools, said, “There's many good things that have come from these laws even though they were overturned - in the way we're looking at technology, the way we're looking at teacher evaluations, the way we're looking at parental input, the way we're looking at advanced opportunities for students. Those are all good things that came from this law, and those don't go away.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Also, click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller on Luna's determination to push for merit pay in 2013.
A somewhat subdued Tom Luna, Idaho state superintendent of schools, pledged today to work with stakeholders to bring back only the pieces of his voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws on which all sides can agree. “I think it's critical that we work together,” Luna said in his first public comments since last Tuesday's election. Asked about the role of the Idaho Education Association, the state's teachers union, Luna said, “We'll sit down and meet with them.”
Asked what he regrets, Luna said, “I regret that I ever used the phrase 'union thuggery.'” He also said he regretted that the laws that went to the voters in three referenda measures were so complex and far-reaching, and promised simpler, less-comprehensive proposals in the future. Luna said he accepts the voters' verdict on his reform plan. “The same people that voted down those laws elected me to this position twice,” he said. “I have full confidence in Idahoans in educating themselves and making a decision based on the information gathered. … They had specific issues with specific parts of the law.”
He offered a couple of examples of pieces of the laws that he thought all sides might support: Funding for high school seniors who have completed graduation requirements to take dual-credit college courses; funding for more math and science teachers; and “some sort of pay for performance.” But he said overall, he doesn't know what parts of the reform plan will win support from all stakeholders. “We'll hear from the stakeholders, and we'll identify what we all agree on,” Luna said. “I think the governor will continue to play a lead role.”
Luna said he stayed out of the public eye in the days following the election because he was exhausted and emotionally drained. “I just took a couple of days, just spent time with my grandkids and my family,” he said. “I was just mentally and physically done.”
Idaho school teachers who earned $38.8 million in merit-pay bonuses last year under the now-repealed “Students Come First” school reform laws still must be paid those bonuses for their work last school year, according to an Idaho Attorney General's opinion released today by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. “This is very good news,” Luna said. “I've been trying to do pay for performance since I was elected in '06.”
But Luna had raised questions about whether the repeal of the laws on Nov. 6 might stop the state's ability to make the payments for last year, which were scheduled to go out to school districts on Nov. 15. The legal opinion, signed by Deputy Attorney General Andrew J. Snook, found that the effective date of the repeal of the law is Nov. 21, when Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa will convene the board of canvassers to certify the election results, after which Gov. Butch Otter will issue a formal proclamation. “Furthermore, the operative events that gave rise to teachers or administrators qualifying for Pay for Performance bonuses all occurred during the 2011-2012 school year,” the opinion said. Therefore, the law's provision that school districts can make the payments to teachers up to Dec. 15, 2012, still stands, as it's “merely ministerial” acts that occur between last school year and that date to get the payments made.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected all three referenda on the Nov. 6 ballot regarding the “Students Come First” laws, repealing all three laws. Proposition 2 was the merit-pay bonus plan.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, says he doesn't want teachers to lose the $38.8 million in performance-pay bonuses that the state is scheduled to send out to school districts on Nov. 15th - he just wants it distributed differently than the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws required. “I would like to see it go to the base, and let the teachers negotiate with their local school boards for it,” Hammond said. “Because I think it's disingenuous … giving merit pay to people that don't deserve it. I don't want to do that to teachers.”
The law's initial bonuses, awarded to teachers based on last school year, are tied to student achievement increases for entire schools or for groups. As those receiving bonuses - and those not - were announced over the past week, there have been concerns raised around the state about schools not qualifying that in some cases have been recognized as outstanding but have high numbers of low-income and disadvantaged students; teachers in those schools won't get bonuses. In both Boise and Coeur d'Alene, that concern has prompted teachers to ponder pooling their bonus money to share some with teachers at those schools.
Hammond, a former school principal, said, “It's not that I'm against merit pay. But this isn't working, and we shouldn't do it. Let the local school districts work that out.” It's not clear whether the state has that option at this point; a legal opinion from the state Attorney General's office is due to the State Department of Education shortly.
Legislative analyst Eric Milstead briefed lawmakers on how the repeal of the Students Come First law will work. “As of today, the Students Come First legislation is still in effect,” Milstead told the Legislative Council. “The Board of Canvassers will meet on Nov. 21 to certify the results of the election. Once they certify that, then the governor forthwith will issue a proclamation declaring the results of the election. Now, at that point, the Students Come First legislation is repealed.”
At that point he explained, “Each code provision that was amended two sessions ago will simply be replaced now by the version of those code sections that existed the day before Students Come First was enacted.” He distributed a list of 40 code sections that were amended by the laws, and now will revert to their former wording, or, for those sections that were created by the laws, will be repealed.
Lawmakers immediately asked: If the laws are in effect on Nov. 15th, the date that $38.8 million in performance-pay bonus money will be distributed to school districts, but not on Nov. 21st, can districts pay out those bonuses to the teachers who qualified for them based on measures their schools met last year? The answer wasn't clear, though Milstead noted that the law gives districts until December to pay the bonuses.
“The legal issue that you've posed is with regard to pay for performance, and I will tell you that our office is working with the superintendent,” said Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane. “We anticipate an answer to be forthcoming. We aren't prepared at this point to go on the record with our answer, but we are … working on it. That will be coming out shortly.”
One issue, Milstead noted, may be that teachers who earned the bonuses under the previous law that prompts the money to be sent to school districts may have a property right to those bonuses, even after the underlying law is repealed.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, “I have a concern about the distribution moving forward as it is, because at least in Kootenai County, I'm running across instance after instance where the pay for performance is doing exactly the opposite of what it's intended to do, and that is, it's providing pay to undeserving staff, and limiting that additional pay to some of the best staff. And I've got precise examples of this. The problem is you can't say Miss Jones over here was the crappy teacher that is getting the raise that shouldn't. You can't publicly do that. But I know that that's the kind of thing that is occurring. So I was hoping to hear an answer that maybe the Legislature would actually kind of pull that back and deal with that in the new session.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, strenuously objected to that idea. He said, “That was my intent, to say where are we and what do we have to do to get the money in the hands of those who earned it.”
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, asked whether the referenda made the laws “void ab initio,” or void from the beginning, as if they'd never been passed. Kane said no. “The law was in effect for a certain set amount of time, and then it's been subsequently repealed.” He said, “The best way to think of it is to think of the interim legislation as an overlay that we are now peeling off and taking back to 2010.”
Here's a link to my full day-after-the-election story at spokesman.com, on how after Idaho voters decisively rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws on Tuesday, leaders on both sides were calling today for a new start on education reforms in Idaho, with all the stakeholders at the table.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke with reporters this afternoon about the election results, and he said the call from “Students Come First” opponents to begin new talks with all stakeholders about school reform is “exactly what I want to do.”
“I think the interest that was shown on both sides, and what we heard on both sides, gives us a good opportunity to start developing, with everybody, a concurrent plan that we can go forward with,” Otter said. “I think everybody does realize, whether they voted for or against the propositions, that our old education system is simply not working. We're not graduating students in many cases that are ready for college, not ready for the wonderful world of work or careers. … I talked to some of the leadership this morning and we're prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all of the stakeholders.”
Otter said he'd be opposed to trying to just re-pass the same laws the voters have rejected. “That isn't a course that I think is positive, that isn't a course that I think would be productive,” he said. “I do think what we need to do is take each prop, each idea of reform, and sit down and say, 'What did you like about it? What didn't you like about it? If you had a chance to change it, how would you change it?' And those things that we can agree on, and each and every one of those … is what we ought to go forward with.”
Unlike Otter, Luna didn't talk to the press today. Asked about Luna's sentiments, Otter said, “I sense that he believes this is a new beginning on education reform, and that we're going to have to go forward.”
The governor said, “There is something we ought to be celebrating today, and that is the big turnout that we had in Idaho. … But we also need to celebrate the independence of the Idaho voter. The Idaho voter isn't going to be led anyplace without some rational thought on their own, without some investigation on their own. I have been the benefactor of that, and in some cases I haven't benefited so much from it. But I still love the independence, and I celebrate their independence today.”
He added, “I want to concentrate right now on the path forward. I want to vet that through the (legislative) leadership, say what can we accomplish, and how quick can we accomplish that, and who do we have to have in the room to accomplish it.”
I've had several inquiries from readers concerned that now that voters have rejected Proposition 3, that the state would face costs related to the now-canceled $182 million laptop contract with Hewlett-Packard. I can verify that according to H-P's Business and Scope of Work Proposal, which is included in the contract as Exhibit D, the state is not required to make any payments.
Bidders were asked to outline early termination costs if Prop 3 didn't pass. H-P said the cost would be zero, as its period of performance for the contract wouldn't begin until the day after the election. It's in Exhibit D on page 102-3; you can read those two pages here. It says, “With a projected start date after November 6, HP anticipates that there will be no lease funding necessary as no notebook units would have shipped or have been accepted prior to the Proposition 3 ballot in November 2012. Hewlett-Packard will not fund any Lease Schedule under the Master Agreement until and unless Proposition 3 has been approved by Idaho voters in November, 2012.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement today on the voters' rejection of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, the “Students Come First” school reform measures:
“The people have spoken, so I’m not discouraged. That’s how our system works. But it’s important to remember that the public conversation that began almost two years ago isn’t over – it’s only begun. Our workforce, our communities and most of all our students still deserve better, and our resources are still limited. We offered these reforms not because we sought change for change’s sake, but because change is needed to afford our young people the opportunities they deserve now and for decades to come. That’s as true today as it was yesterday, so our work for a brighter and better future continues.”
Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two who chaired the “No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, said today, “I first got involved in this effort because I have a couple of elementary kids and that was my entire motivation for getting involved. … This election was not a vote against better schools, quite to the contrary. This outcome was a statement by voters that we care very deeply about Idaho's public schools.” He said, “Let's be clear about the mandate from voters,” listing five points:
* “Idaho's voters believe in local control of public schools and reject any top-down, one-size-fits-all mandates from the state.”
* “We believe that every student deserves to have an excellent teacher, and reject the notion of cutting teachers and increasing class sizes in order to pay for unproven technological education fixes.”
* “We believe in the fundamental fairness of a collaborative benefit for everyone of giving our teachers a full voice in how our schools are managed, through the local negotiations process, including on matters beyond pay and benefits.”
* “We believe we should invest in the classroom and reject the idea than an unfunded and unproven merit pay plan can improve student achievement.”
* “And we believe that all stakeholders in education should be brought to the table to engage in a real and an honest process of figuring out how to improve Idaho's public schools.”
Said Lanza, “Most of all in this election, voters said overwhelmingly our elected leaders must be held accountable to the public.” At that point, he was interrupted by applause. “We want to sit down with our elected leaders, and that includes Supt. Luna,” Lanza said, “and begin the hard work that is required to forge real education reform.”
Maria Greeley, a Boise mom and co-founder of the campaign with Lanza, said, “The Luna laws were divisive and destructive, but there is a positive outcome. We have learned how important it is for all citizens to remain engaged in education. We know what we don't want, and by contrast, we have learned what we do want. We want transparency. We want collaboration. We want politics kept out of education. We want the input from our educators. We want our locally elected school boards to determine what is best for each district. And we want to know that our teachers are valued. It is now time to start healing and moving forward.”
Leaders of the successful campaign to overturn state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform laws gathered in front of Boise High School today to talk about what's next. “This debate has never been about union control of schools,” said Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, and also a mother of four and 28-year teacher in the Moscow School District. “This debate has been about what's best for the students, educators and Idaho's public schools.” She added, “Now that the voters have spoken, it's up to us, the adults, to model … for our students how grownups with diverse views can come together and put their differences aside and go forward. … I urge lawmakers and other elected leaders and policy makers to meet us at the table, to begin the conversation about what is best for Idaho's students and Idaho's schools. We believe that together we can be a model of reform for the nation.”
After all three of his “Students Come First” school reform measures were soundly defeated by Idaho voters yesterday, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna issued this statement this morning:
“I still believe that Idahoans want better schools through education reform. I still believe that empowering local school boards, phasing out tenure, giving parents input on evaluations, helping students take dual credit, paying teachers for more than just years of experience and amount of education, and making sure every classroom is a 21st Century Classroom are critical if we want an education system that meets the needs of every child. We have now had a 22-month discussion about what this should look like. I understand Idahoans have expressed concerns, yet I do not believe any Idahoan wants to go back to the status quo system we had two years ago. I am as committed as anyone to finding a way to make this happen. We must find a way because our children’s future is at stake.”
With 93 percent of the vote counted, all three “Students Come First” school reform measures are being soundly defeated. That means the laws passed amid much controversy in 2011 are repealed. Here's where they stand:
Proposition 1: 42.8% yes, 57.2% no
Proposition 2: 42.1 percent yes, 57.9 percent no
Proposition 3: 33.4 percent yes, 66.6 percent no
Idaho's dominant Republican establishment appeared headed for a rare rebuke from voters Tuesday, as school-reform measures pushed hard by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and GOP Gov. Butch Otter trailed at the polls at press time. The three measures, Propositions 1, 2 and 3, became the hottest election issue in Idaho this year, eclipsing even the presidential race - which was a foregone conclusion for Idaho's four electoral votes in the heavily GOP state that strongly favored Mitt Romney.
Luna called the measures “by far the most important choice on education that many of us will make in our lifetime,” and Otter called them “very important.” On election night, Otter told The Spokesman-Review, “We'll go back, get our heads together in the Legislature, and see where we go from there.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
With 20 percent of the vote counted, all three school reform referendum measures continue to trail, with Proposition 3, the technology measure, faring the worst, losing 64.1 to 35.9 percent. Here's the current tally:
Proposition 1: 45.3 percent yes, 54.7 percent no
Proposition 2: 44.5 percent yes, 55.5 percent no
Proposition 3: 35.9 percent yes, 64.1 percent no
Opponents of the “Students Come First” school reform measures are celebrating at their own election-night party at the Red Lion Downtowner hotel. The early numbers show a win for the opponents.
“If we pull this off, it's going to be an affirmation of what we've believed since the 2011 session,” said Mike Lanza, chairman of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, shown here discussing the latest results with Boise City Councilwoman Lauren McLean. “The public didn't buy any of the case that Superintendent Luna made for these laws,” Lanza said, “and didn't trust that they were best for our schools.”
A Boise father who hadn't been active in politics before the referendum campaign, Lanza said, “We'll be ready to bring everybody together and have a real and honest conversation about what our schools need and how we can make them better. It has to be based on hard data and things that really work, and not just ideology and things that sound good to some people.”
The very first smattering of election results has come in, and with just 9 of 967 precincts reporting, all three “Students Come First” school reform propositions are trailing. The early tally:
Proposition 1: 46.1% yes, 53.9% no
Proposition 2: 44% yes, 56% no
Proposition 3: 35.1% yes, 64.4% no
I was contacted in April by State Legislatures Magazine, which is published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, about writing a piece about Idaho's school-reform fight for their fall issue, a big-picture piece looking at how the reforms came to be introduced, what they do, the players supporting and opposed to the changes, and how the politics played out in Boise that led to the measures passing the Legislature. I don't often do freelance work (no time), but this seemed worthwhile, my newspaper approved, and I agreed. I took a week's vacation to do the interviews, and filed the story in June. It's now out, and at this point, from the thick of the campaign, it's interesting to step back and look at this whole thing from a big-picture perspective.
The article is headed, “A Bold Approach to School Reform: Sweeping changes to Idaho’s education policy turned into a hot potato issue that’s landed in the voters’ laps.” You can read it here.
The latest TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 comes from “Yes for Idaho Education,” and features a message strikingly similar to that in a September statewide ad from “Parents for Education Reform.” The look is different, with video of teachers and kids in class, and there's different music, but the message is the same; it pulls out a feel-good item from each of the three complex measures and touts it as what the propositions will do. It does add in a jab at the “national teachers union” that was missing from the earlier ad. “It is essentially the same general positive message we’ve had in initial TV, in radio ads, and on our direct mail absentee chase,” said Ken Burgess, spokesman for the “Yes” campaign.
Click below to compare the wording of the new “Yes” ad and the previous ad from PFER, which was the group that placed the ads funded by secret contributions to Education Voters of Idaho; you can read my fact-check story here from Sept. 28, which was headed, “Ad touting school reforms tells just part of story.”
The new “Yes” ad is running only in the Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls/Pocatello markets, Burgess said, adding, “We've left the Gov. Otter ad in place for our full run in Spokane.”
It turns out that the “buyout” clause in the $182 million laptop contract is not what the State Department of Education originally described - a cost that “is only paid if the contract is severed for some reason” and “may or may not be paid.” In response to my repeated inquiries, after I found no reference to such an early-cancellation buyout fee in the contract, SDE spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told me this afternoon, “That would be my error.” Instead, the “buyout” clause is the amount the state would have to pay at the end of the contract term - after it's run its full eight years - to buy out the remaining years in the four-year leases on the laptops, for those with years remaining. That means it's definitely a cost that will remain part of the total.
I'm still awaiting answers as to why the amount estimated by the department, $14.2 million, doesn't match up to the amount of remaining lease payments times the number of units, which comes to $21.9 million. If that's the required buyout at the end of the term, the total contract cost is nearly $190 million - $189,687,228 - not the $181,935,125 the department estimates.
McGrath said the difference in amount comes because the state is scheduled to pay the laptop leases in two semi-annual installments each year, with the two payments together totaling $292.77 per unit per year. “The $14.2 million figure was an estimate HP provided for us,” McGrath said in an email. “The $21 million calculation would have been based on the full cost of the buyout, yet since the state is doing semi-annual payments with HP, it will only pay half of these costs at the end of 8 years.”
Here's my problem with that logic: Whether you pay in two installments or a single piece, you still pay the same amount. The state's estimates show no additional payment in Year 8 for the first half of the buyouts; costs for Year 8 are estimated at $26,459,382, the exact same amount as for years 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the contract, an amount that's exactly equal to the estimated 90,376 laptops times $292.77.
McGrath, who is checking back once again with the SDE's accounting department and will get back to me, said, “I believe either it's already factored in or it's not getting paid. This is the full amount of the contract.”
Incidentally, the contract also allows for up to a 4 percent increase in the $292.77 rate after the first four years, if HP can provide “full justification as to why the adjustment is necessary.” If that full 4 percent increase were approved at that point, it would add another $4.2 million to cost of the eight-year contract.
Idaho's fight over three school-reform ballot measures has set a record for campaign spending on ballot measures in straight dollars, reports Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, eclipsing the 1986 battle in which voters affirmed the Legislature's passage of the Right to Work law. Between all the different groups involved in the school reform campaign, including independent expenditures, Popkey calculates that the opponents have raised $3.6 million and backers $2.6 million, a total of $6.2 million.
In 1986, unions opposed to the Right to Work law spent $2.8 million on the campaign to overturn it, while backers of the law spent $1.167 million to defend it, a total of just under $4 million; 54 percent of voters backed the law. You can read Popkey's full post here.
If inflation since 1986 is taken into account, however, the 1986 battle still ranks as Idaho's biggest. Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, which is based on the Consumer Price Index, the $3.967 million spent that year would equal $8.376 million in today's 2012 dollars.
So who did all this giving this time around? The biggest giver among proponents is eastern Idaho millionaire Frank VanderSloot. Between VanderSloot's independent expenditures and his donations to various groups campaigning in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the Melaleuca owner so far has spent $1.4 million, and he told Popkey, “I'm not done yet.”
On the “no” side, the biggest giver has been the National Education Association, which has donated $2.8 million so far. Second-biggest is the Idaho Education Association, which has kicked in $601,068, including $495,971 to the “No” campaign and another $105,097 to the group “Idaho Republicans for our Schools,” which is running radio ads against the measures. The “No” campaign also has received $36,500 from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.; $10,000 from Anthony Balukoff; $5,000 from the Pacific Northwest Regional Carpenters Union; and a slew of much smaller donations from individuals in Idaho. The campaign filed 44 pages listing hundreds of small donations from individuals, some as small as $3 apiece; the law requires disclosure only of donations of more than $50.
On the “Yes” side, the money has flowed through the official “Yes for Idaho Education” campaign, which reported raising $950,974, with VanderSloot's Melaleuca as its biggest giver at $604,500; and three other groups: the Idaho Federation of Republican Women, which got all its $428,000 from VanderSloot; Education Voters of Idaho, which revealed yesterday that the biggest givers in its $641,160 in fundraising were Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000; and Parents for Education Reform, a group related to EVI that raised $150,000, including $100,000 from Students First, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group headed by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and $50,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also gave $50,000 to the official “Yes” campaign.
You can see all the campaign finance reports on the Secretary of State's website here. They're listed variously under Party Committees, Measure and Miscellaneous Committees, and Independent Expenditures and Electioneering Communications. The final pre-general election reporting period ended Oct. 21, but large amounts donated after that must be reported within 48 hours in separate 48-hour reports that show up on the same website.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Amid a campaign secrecy dustup, millionaire Idaho businessman Duane Hagadone took back money from a group that was reporting it publicly and gave it to another that fought to keep its donors hidden. On Aug. 6, Hagadone gave $15,000 to Yes for Education, a political action committee campaigning to preserve public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul at the ballot box Nov. 6. On Aug. 14, the PAC returned Hagadone's $15,000, according to records filed with the Idaho secretary of state's office. Weeks later, on Sept. 24, he gave $15,000 to Education Voters of Idaho, a group that sought to keep its contributors secret but was forced by a judge Wednesday to reveal financiers, including Hagadone. Hagadone didn't immediately return an e-mail on Thursday seeking comment on his campaign spending.
The latest campaign ad in Idaho's school reform fight features Gov. Butch Otter endorsing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in a positive, feel-good message. “Education in Idaho is at a crossroads,” the casually dressed governor says in the commercial, which is running statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. “This election year we're being asked whether we will keep meaningful education reforms on the books or go back to the old way of doing things.”
The “old way of doing things” refers to Idaho's laws prior to 2011, when lawmakers enacted the reforms that restricted teachers' collective bargaining rights, imposed a new merit-pay bonus system, and required big technology boosts including laptop computers for high school students and a new focus on online learning. “It paints the opposition as being reactionaries, going back to the old ways, which is kind of funny,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University. “It's a pretty positive message.”
The ad is sponsored by “Yes for Idaho Education,” the official campaign group backing the three measures. Opponents of the laws collected thousands of signatures to force a voter referendum on the laws; a yes vote would keep them, while a no vote would repeal them. Ken Burgess, spokesman for the Yes campaign, said the idea behind the ad was partly to defuse ire aimed against state Superintendent Tom Luna, the author of the laws. “All this issue about these things being called the 'Luna laws' - we just want to remind everybody from a leadership, statesman standpoint that the governor was as much responsible for this stuff certainly as Tom Luna,” Burgess said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, examining the claims in the ad.