Idaho Governor Revives Ed Reform Laws Voted Down Last Fall

Idaho Governor Butch Otter has signed into law many of the limits on teachers’ collective bargaining rights that voters rejected in a referendum only a few months ago.

Earlier this week, Otter signed five bills that brought back to life parts of Proposition 1 – voted down last November – which limits teacher contracts to just one year and gives school districts more freedoms to cut teacher pay without first declaring a financial emergency.

Four of the bills have language that will allow them to become effective immediately, while the measure limiting teacher contracts to a single year is retroactive to November 21, 2012 – the day after the referendum vote went into effect.

In November, 57 percent of Idaho voters rejected Proposition 1, covering teacher contract provisions. Proposition 2, which concerned performance pay, was turned down by 58 percent of voters, and Proposition 3, requiring online learning, was rejected by 67 percent.

“I think it shows a great disrespect to the voting public,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, a retired teacher. “They were all three put down, and I can’t believe we can’t respect that for at least a year.”

Otter, however, expressed pride in the new laws, saying that just because there might be partisanship involved in the drafting of the legislation, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t benefit Idaho residents. As he pointed out, laws don’t need broad bipartisan support to be useful; he said that among the five new bills were measures that were popular, including making the contract negotiation for teachers public and for a master labor agreement to be made publicly available on district websites.

However, like the “Students Come First Laws” which passed in 2011, the five bills signed into law by Otter had almost no Democratic support and plenty of opposition from both parties. House Speaker Scott Bedke recommended inserting so-called “sunset provisions” into all five bills to allow the legislative committee to meet and assess their impact after a year before making them permanent. Two of the five laws have such provisions.

Penni Cyr, Idaho Education Association president, said teachers have been flexible. “We came to the table and engaged in conversation every single time we were asked,” she said. She noted that an earlier version of the open-negotiations bill, proposed by the Idaho School Boards Association, paired it with a controversial proposal regarding labor negotiations; that proposal later was killed, while the open-negotiations bill passed.

Bedke said, “We have got to set up a system where local school districts can react to the financial realities of the day. At the same time, you need a motivated, well-paid workforce to teach the kids. So I don’t want to go back to any of the buzz words of the past. I want to look forward.”