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Eye On Boise

Debate: Segregation, same-sex marriage and schools

The two candidates for Idaho superintendent of schools debated some hot topics during their live debate tonight on Idaho Public Television. Among the highlights: Republican Tom Luna called for separate charter elementary schools for children who are struggling to learn English. “In my district in Nampa, we have 14 elementary schools – every one of them struggles with non-English speaking students,” Luna said. “Imagine if we had one school – a school of choice so nobody was forced to go there – but just one school would have the best and brightest teachers in language acquisition. We could bring the students to that school, get ‘em up to grade level in English, and then transition them back into the traditional school.”

Democrat Jana Jones strongly denounced the idea as “segregation,” as the two faced off in the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club and broadcast live across the state. “We learned a long time ago that segregating kids based on disability or limited English proficiency, even if the parents may want to choose or not to choose to go there, that that is not in the best interest of children,” Jones declared. “We should never propose or promote that that is what we want for our kids.” Instead, every school should excel and meet its students’ needs, she said.

Luna seized on her response. “That’s wrong,” he said. “That puts the bureaucracy and the bureaucrat at a higher level in deciding what’s best for a child than it does the parent, and we can never have a successful public education system that meets the needs of every child as long as we have an attitude that the bureaucracy knows what’s best.”

The disagreements didn’t end there. Luna pounded on Jones for not backing the anti-gay marriage amendment on the November ballot, prompting her at one point to cite her 33-year marriage to "an absolutely wonderful man" and say, “I’m offended that you think I don’t support traditional families because that’s not even remotely correct.” She added that Idaho’s schools include children from single-parent families and “all kinds of families,” and “we need to value all families in the state regardless of their makeup.”

Luna pushed his multimillion-dollar plan to install high-tech security systems in every Idaho school, while Jones said the state already has led an effort to develop crisis management plans for every school in the state. Cutbacks in positions like school resource officers and school counselors are a bigger threat to school safety now, she said.

Luna said, “We have bureaucracy who are gobbling up way too much of our education dollar. … We have textbooks that are outdated and wore out.” Asked which bureaucracies are gobbling up the money, he cited school busing costs, saying current funding rules give school districts no incentive to economize. Jones warned that economizing on busing could “compromise the safety of children.”

You can watch the debate in its entirety at

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.