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School Reform: Obama, Idaho Style

President Obama has challenged the nation to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the next decade. Idaho schools superintendent Tom Luna’s education reform plan hinges upon cutting 770 teaching jobs over two years. I was struck by the contrast. And as the Legislature prepares for a defining debate over the future of its schools, I was struck by Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, and the time and focus the president devoted to education issues. Obama’s education agenda isn’t far removed from Idaho’s agenda. Obama touted his “Race to the Top” grant program; Luna sought money for Idaho, unsuccessfully/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Would you rather have Barack Obama's style of school reform, or Tom Luna's?

Post Falls Woman Backs Luna’s Plan

Lorna Finman of Post Falls told lawmakers, “I am here today to wholeheartedly support Supt. Tom Luna's plan for students come first in Idaho. … We need to adapt and increase our level of education quality like never before if we are to adapt.”  Finman, who's been active in promoting technology programs including robotics for school kids in North Idaho, shared the story of a formerly homeless North Idaho student who was given a laptop computer, and became a successful programmer and went on to attend MIT/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Luna: A Laptop For Every Freshman

“It's nothing new for Idaho students to take online courses - it's definitely not a radical idea,” state schools Supt. Tom Luna told lawmakers this morning in his budget hearing. He said he wants to require all 9th graders to take two online credits per year starting next fall, and expand that each year as those students move up. Also starting next fall, every 9th grader in public school in Idaho would be given a laptop computer. “This is the new textbook, the new research device, the connection to information and learning inside the classroom and out,” Luna said/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: What do you think of Superintendent Tom Luna's plan to equip high school freshmen with laptops & then require them to take two online credits next fall?

Hucks Poll: Plurality Backs Luna Plan

  • Thursday Poll: 64 of 147 respondents (43.5%) support plans by Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna to radically overhaul Idaho's public education system. But 54 of 147 (36.7%) voted that Luna's “three pillars” proposals will devastate the education system, and 24 of 147 (16.3%) said the system needs to be tweaked rather than overhauled. 5 respondents were undecided.
  • Today's Poll: Should significant changes proposed for McEuen Field be put to a public vote?

Hoffman: 3 Cheers For Luna’s Plan

Schools Superintendent Tom Luna has proposed an education improvement agenda that makes amazing sense and is long overdue. There's a truckload of bias in my statement. The plan pretty much reflects what I, and my friends who believe in limited government, want from the Legislature this year in terms of public schools: In my column last week, I said I want an overhaul of the public education system, support for digital learning, better pay for the best teachers, focus on student achievement not school bureaucracies, limiting teachers' union contracts to time and content and requiring labor negotiations to be conducted in public. All of this is contained in Luna's plan/Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation. More here.

Question: Do you agree with Wayne Hoffman that the “three pillars” plan laid out by Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna “makes amazing sense and is long overdue”?

Luna Plan Would Cut 700 Teachers

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's school reform plan, just unveiled today, would eliminate the jobs of about 770 teachers over the next five years, according to Department of Education estimates. “Because we are requiring online courses and because we are going to increase the student-teacher ratio over the next five years, there is anticipated to be fewer teachers,” said Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath. “Over five years it would equal about 770. … We believe over the next five years we can absorb most of those through attrition”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.


17% Of Idaho Ed Pols Fail Pop Quiz

Lawmakers were hit with a pop quiz on Idaho history when public schools chief Tom Luna decided to show off some new technology being used in classrooms — but not everyone passed. During a hearing Wednesday, the 27 lawmakers on the Senate and House education committees were asked two questions and given electronic devices that function like a remote to input their answers. While Luna used the “clickers” as an example of how technology is revamping the traditional classroom, the devices also allowed the audience a brief chuckle when some lawmakers failed the short quiz. When asked what year Idaho became a state, the results were automatically projected onto a screen and showed that 17 percent of lawmakers on the two education panels did not know the correct answer/Associated Press. More here.

Question: Without looking, do you know when Idaho became a state and which town was the first state capitol?

Luna Claims Mandate To Push Ahead

State Supt. Tom Luna said it's his election mandate that's prompting him to push forward with his far-reaching education reform plan. “The urgency that we're moving this with is based on what the governor and I experienced this past year … going from community to community, a very, very rigorous campaign, on top of being a governor and state superintendent at the same time,” he said. “The people had a very clear choice, because those who defend the status quo ran very vigorous campaigns on how they thought education should operate now and in the future. The governor and I had a different plan. The people … rejected the status quo”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Based on the election results of last November, do you think Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna & the Idaho Legislature have a mandate to overhaul the Idaho education system?

Luna: Cut Tenure For New Teachers

State Supt. Tom Luna said his “second pillar” of reform also includes “focused, meaningful professional development and continuing education” for educators, along with more flexibility in hiring both for school districts and school principals, who would have veto power over hires at their school. He also said he's proposing “fair and effective labor practices,” which he defined as a two-year rolling contract for all new teachers to replace tenure. “We can no longer permit a forever contract in our schools,” he said, saying that no research shows tenure improves student achievement. Existing teachers, however, would retain it, he said/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Will the elimination of new teachers prompt new teachers to go to other states for work? And/or: What do you think of Luna's 'three pillars'?

Luna, Otter Plan To Overhaul Ed?

Three years after lawmakers rejected their $21 million pay-for-performance plan for K-12 teachers, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna (pictured) and Gov. Butch Otter are upping the ante. Re-election behind them, the two have quietly designed reforms to school finance, teacher tenure, digital learning and measurement of student performance that Luna said aim at setting national and world standards. And they appear ready to carry them out without any additional money for public schools. Republican leaders in the Legislature were briefed last week but sworn to secrecy until Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., when Luna will present the plan to Senate and House education committees. “Watch and listen,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Does the Idaho education system need an overhaul?

State cabin-site rent debate continues…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s Idaho Supreme Court decision tossing out Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s constitutional challenge that charged that the state Land Board set rents for state-owned cabin sites too low, and Wasden’s announcement that, based on the high court’s procedural ruling, he’ll now refile the challenge in district court. Meanwhile, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, who like Wasden serves on the Land Board, issued this statement:

“At this point, what is best for kids is to stop spending precious tax dollars on attorneys in this case. As I said before, if the Attorney General thinks the current cottage site lease rates are unconstitutional, then as a fellow member of the Land Board he needs to put a motion on the table that he believes is constitutional and let the Board debate it in a public forum. We’ve already spent too many tax dollars on this matter and going to district court without first putting a proposal on the table will just continue to cost taxpayers, and ultimately schoolchildren, dollars that are need elsewhere.”

AM: GOP Tightens Hold On Idaho

Idaho Education Superintendent Tom Luna, left, and his wife Cindy, right, celebrate his victory at the Republican Party Election Headquarters held at a hotel in Boise Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Cilley)

ID Blogs: Labrador Wins If Luna Does

Today on KIDOam.com and 580 am (locally) Tom Luna and Stan Olson will debate their positions on the Austin Hill Show at 3 pm. Listen in!! It should be interesting … But there is something EVEN more interesting happening … My stake in the ground is set. It’s been there for over a month. As goes the Luna-Olson race in Idaho, so could go the races for Idaho Governor and US Congress (in the 1st CD.) I know, I know, Stan Olson and Tom Luna are NOT running for US Congress or for the Governorship. … they’re running for Idaho’s top education spot, which Luna has twice sought and once won. Yes, I know that. And in fact, that’s my point.

Question: What do you make of Dennis’s contention that the Luna-Olson race is a bellweather for how the other races go?

Statesman Endorses Tom Luna

Incumbent state schools superintendent Tom Luna touts his business background. Challenger Stan Olson is running on his 40-year career in education. The job isn’t so easily pigeonholed. And it is decidedly political. A successful superintendent must be able to navigate a treacherous landscape, during some of the toughest budget times in state history. A successful superintendent must be able to balance the interests of every group that has a stake in our school system — and a stake in the future of 278,000 Idaho students. By both measures, Luna earns our endorsement/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Agree? Disagree? Have you paid attention to this race at all?

Olson Blasts Luna For Budget Cuts

Olson accused Luna of failing to plan ahead for possible cuts. When Luna touted his efforts to unearth $22 the million of endowment reserves to help offset this year’s cuts, Olson dismissed it as a last-minute ploy and a poor precedent. And there was even some snark about academic credentials, as Olson made a point of reminding Idahoans that he has had to defend a doctoral dissertation. “I’ll have to tell you about that someday,” Olson told Luna/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: What role will the unprecedented budget cuts to public education play in the elections for governor and superintendent of schools?

Luna, Olson Meet In Statewide Debate

Democratic Idaho State Department of Education Superintendent candidate  Stan  Olson, left, and Republican incumbent Tom Luna debate at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise on Tuesday in a statewide broadcast produced by Idaho Public Television. You can read Betsy Russell’s coverage of last night’s debate here. And: blow-by-blow coverage of the debate by Betsy on her blog here. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Joe Jaszewski)

Question: Who is the best candidate for superintendent of schools? Why?

Idaho Debates Begin w/Luna, Olson

It’s debate season, with major debates set in the coming weeks in Idaho’s top political races, giving voters who tune in a chance to see and compare the candidates. The Idaho Debates, which have been sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club and aired on Idaho Public Television live for the past three decades, kick off this week with tomorrow night’s live debate in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, and on Thursday night, debates in the contests for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

HBO Poll: Olson Preferred To Luna

  • Monday Poll: Democratic challenger Stan Olson is the preferred choice at Hucks Nation for Idaho Superintendent of Education. 88 of 144 (61.11%) respondents preferred Olson over Republican incumbent Tom Luna, if the election was held today. 56 of 144 (38.89%) opted for Luna. Luna is ahead in the current election polls.
  • Today’s Poll: Which is the better name for the week before the Boise State game, on the University of Idaho campus?

95% Of Idaho Teachers Back Olson

Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood speaks at a statehouse rally Friday for Stan Olson for state superintendent of schools. Betsy Russell reported over the weekend that 95 percent of Idaho’s teachers support Olson, who is challenging current Superintendent Tom Luna. Story here. (SR photo: Betsy Russell)

Question: Will Democrat Stan Olson be helped much by the fact that 95 percent of Idaho teachers support him over incumbent Republican Tom Luna?

Schools get word on money from jobs bill

The Boise school district will get $4.6 million, Meridian nearly $6 million. St Maries schools: $225,000. Coeur d’Alene schools get nearly $1.8 million. West Bonner County: $285,000. Idaho’s state Department of Education has released the breakdown of how much money will go to each Idaho school district from the newly passed federal jobs bill, which will send $51.6 million to Idaho schools for salaries and benefits for teachers and other employees actually at schools - not in the school district office. The money also can’t be put in rainy-day funds, but school districts have 27 months to spend it. Click here to see the full breakdown, which lists every Idaho school district and charter school and its share.

Gov. Butch Otter, in a letter to school districts, wrote, “I strongly urge districts accepting these funds to focus on the preservation of student-teacher contact time and that you consider budgeting funds not only for the 2010-2011 school year but also in the 2011-2012 school year.” The coming school year - which has either just started or is starting shortly in districts around the state - is the one in which schools will feel the unprecedented $128 million budget cut lawmakers approved this past spring; the $51.6 million can offset some of those cuts, by doing things like canceling planned unpaid furloughs, but it’s not enough to reverse even half the cuts.

At the governor’s direction, school districts and charter schools have to contact the state Department of Education by Sept. 3 to say “yes” and get the money, which is being handed out through the state’s existing distribution formula to districts around the state.

Dems react to federal ed funds

Yesterday Gov. Butch Otter announced that Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in federal aid for its ailing schools, and said he’ll apply for the funds, and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna hailed Otter’s decision in a statement posted here yesterday. Later the same day, Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred issued a statement saying the decision to apply for the federal funds was a sign that Otter had failed the schools this year; “Otter cut education so severely that even taking the big federal bailout won’t keep our schools whole,” he said. And legislative Democrats sent out a statement urging Otter and Luna to quickly distribute the money to schools to make up the “dramatic and unprecedented cuts that have occurred under Republican leadership in recent years.” Click below to read both their statements.

Olson faults Luna for school science grad requirements shortfall

Stan Olson, the Democratic challenger to GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, is criticizing Luna’s move to do away with a standardized test on science as a graduation requirement in Idaho, a move approved yesterday by the state Board of Education. “Given the critical need in areas such as health care, high-tech, energy and agriculture there is no more important subject to a child’s development and their future opportunities than science,” Olson said. “By removing proficiency in science as a graduation requirement, Mr. Luna is not only selling our kids short, he’s endangering some of our economy’s most important employers.”

Olson said it’s not just yesterday’s move he objects to; he’s concerned that new science graduation requirements adopted by the state four years ago have languished, without leadership from Luna to get Idaho school districts ready to implement them. “The reality is that Mr. Luna focused his time on boondoggles such as performance pay initiatives or ‘Race to the Top’ or a number of other initiatives, and neglected the responsibility … that was before him, and more importantly before every school district in the state,” Olson said. “We’ve been talking for three or four years that districts needed support and consistent assistance from the state department and consistent resource assistance, to get ready for the deployment of those graduate requirements, and particularly what we were going to be doing in science.”

Olson is the just-retired superintendent of the Boise School District, where he served as superintendent from 2002 until June 30 of this year; it’s the second-largest school district in the state, with 25,000 students and a $200 million annual operating budget. He holds a doctorate in education from Western Michigan University, and started his education career as a high school teacher and coach in 1971, going on to serve in numerous administrative posts including district superintendent in Wyoming from 1997 to 2002. Olson, who is making his first run for office, is using the campaign slogan, “A real educator when we need one most!”

Luna, a businessman and former school board member, is Idaho’s first non-educator state superintendent of schools. He’s seeking a second term; his campaign slogan is “Measuring Success One Child at a Time.” Here are links to Luna’s campaign website and Olson’s campaign website.

Luna Wants To Scrap Science Test

Idaho high school students would no longer have to pass a standardized test in science to graduate from high school, under a rule change pushed by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna and approved by the state Board of Education yesterday; lawmakers still must sign off on the change, which would take effect with the class of 2013. Luna said it wasn’t an accurate measure of how students are performing in science/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Should the standardized test in science for graduation be scrapped?

Luna, state board want to scrap science test as high school grad requirement

Idaho high school students would no longer have to pass a standardized test in science to graduate from high school, under a rule change pushed by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna and approved by the state Board of Education yesterday; lawmakers still must sign off on the change, which would take effect with the class of 2013. Luna said it wasn’t an accurate measure of how students are performing in science. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho won’t reapply for ‘Race to the Top’ funds for schools

Idaho won’t apply for the next round of federal “Race to the Top” funding after all, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna announced today, after its first-round application was rejected. Luna had been enthusiastic about the program the first time around, saying it might be the only new funds Idaho schools would see next year, and it could bring millions to the state. Only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, were selected in the first round. Luna said he’s giving up on the second round for a variety of reasons, including the difficulty for school districts facing budget cuts to complete the second-round application by a June 1 deadline; click below to read Luna’s full announcement.

Luna: Schools need 9% more next year

State schools Supt. Tom Luna says Idaho’s public schools need a 9.2 percent increase in state general funds next year, just to keep even and fund student growth. In a budget request for fiscal year 2011 that Luna’s scheduled to present to the state Board of Education on Thursday, he calls for a $1.34 billion general fund appropriation for public schools next year, $1.73 billion in total funds. That’s up from $1.23 billion in general funds this year - the first year that Idaho’s schools have taken a cut in state funds from what they received the year before. This year’s school budget, in state funds, was 7.7 percent below last year’s $1.33 billion level.

In his submission for Thursday’s state board meeting, Luna said his budget request for next year would require a $112.7 million increase in general funds to replace federal stimulus money that helped prop up this year’s school budget, and to fund growth. He’s also calling for a $28.1 million appropriation from the state’s Public Education Stabilization Fund to finish closing that gap. In total funds - including federal stimulus money, some of which was targeted to specific programs - this year’s school budget was set at $1.71 billion.

Luna: Obama back-to-school speech was ‘appropriate and timely’

Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna watched President Barack Obama’s back-to-school speech today with a classroom full of 8th graders at Fairmont Junior High School, and afterward Luna called the president’s speech “appropriate and timely.” He said, “I thought the message was very similar to messages that we hear public officials give to students often - it’s definitely something that I say every chance I get in front of students, that students need to be responsible for their education, they need to come to school every day ready to learn.”

Luna said the kids he watched with paid attention and took notes, then answered questions from both their teacher and him afterward. “I had a number of kids tell me that they were going to try a little bit harder this year … that even if they encounter obstacles or challenges, they were going to keep trying and do a little bit better every day.” Luna, a Republican, said he was puzzled by the outcry from some quarters over the president addressing school kids, “because I remember when I worked for the Bush Administration … the president was always at a school the first day talking to students. That’s why he was at a school Sept. 11 reading to students, because it was the first day of school in Florida.”

State lawmakers to help choose kids for new NASA program for Idaho students

Item: Online program connects Idaho students, NASA/Betsy Z. Russell, S-R

More Info: Bright, advanced Idaho high school juniors can now compete to get into a new science and math online class and summer academy offered in partnership with NASA - in part by impressing a local state legislator. Or, perhaps, just knowing one. “We would like to get state lawmakers involved in this, in endorsing students from their legislative district,” said Idaho Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. “Legislators would be involved in the review of applications and helping to select the students … they’d have a big role in choosing which student goes.”

Question: Is this a good role for elected lawmakers?

State lawmakers to help choose kids for new NASA program for Idaho students

Bright, advanced Idaho high school juniors can now compete to get into a new online science and math course offered in partnership with NASA - in part by impressing a local state legislator. Or, perhaps, just knowing one. “We would like to get state lawmakers involved in this, in endorsing students from their legislative district,” said Idaho Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. “Legislators would be involved in the review of applications and helping to select the students. … they’d have a big role in choosing which student goes.” You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna joined astronaut Barbara Morgan, now a distinguished educator in residence at Boise State University, to announce the new program Thursday. It’s modeled after a similar, award-winning program in Texas; there’s also one in Virginia, making Idaho the third state to launch a “Science and Aerospace Scholars Program.” Both Texas and Virginia also involve state lawmakers in “endorsing” kids for the program. McGrath said, “The goal is to get legislators involved in this program and more involved in their local school districts and the public education system, by seeing what students are doing, what their goals are, what they’re working toward. … Also, these students are representatives of Idaho when they go to the summer academy, so we think it’s important to have our local elected officials involved.”

Students who are successful in the rigorous online course, which is aligned to state education standards, could earn an expense-paid trip to a special NASA academy in California next summer. Click here for more info.

Luna: ‘It’s still a high bar’

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna says he’s always been an advocate of lowering the supermajority to pass school bonds, while also reducing the number of possible dates when bond elections can be held. The successful legislation this year to consolidate elections, which will reduce school bond votes to only four dates starting in 2011, just did half of that - and would therefore, on its own, make it tougher for Idaho school districts to build new schools. “I think you’ve raised the bar considerably,” Luna told Eye on Boise. “And I don’t think that was necessarily the intent of all of those who supported election consolidation - it sure wasn’t my expectation that we would stop with just election consolidation.”

Luna, who will propose a constitutional amendment to lawmakers in January to lower the supermajority from two-thirds to 60 percent, said, “I think it’s still a high bar the districts need to get over in order to pass local bonds and levies.” Election consolidation means “you’re going to see a lot more people show up at the polls,” he said. “I’m not predicting that it will mean that districts will have an easier time. Quite frankly, with more, quite possibly with seven or eight times more people showing up at the polls, 60 percent is still going to be a high bar to get over.”

He acknowledged that numerous past efforts to lower the supermajority have failed, but said they never had election consolidation already in place. “It’s not going to be an easy process - it’s not easy to change the constitution, it shouldn’t be easy,” he said. “But I think it’s a worthy cause. I think that people will see the value and the reasons for doing it. I think we’ll be successful.”