Otter, Luna Regroup After Defeat of Education Laws in Idaho

It’s hard to read the fates of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in Idaho this week as anything but a stinging rebuke to the man who pushed their passage through the state Legislature: Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. John Miller, writing for WSLS10, calls the winning margins – as high as 66% in the case [...]

It’s hard to read the fates of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in Idaho this week as anything but a stinging rebuke to the man who pushed their passage through the state Legislature: Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. John Miller, writing for WSLS10, calls the winning margins – as high as 66% in the case of Prop 3, which called for adopting an online education requirement for high school graduation and allocated $180 million towards equipping high schoolers with laptops – a clear sign that in forging ahead with their ambitious education reform agenda, Luna and Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter forgot to make sure that they had the support of the citizens of their state.

The other two laws — also handily rejected by the voters — placed limits of the collective bargaining rights of the state’s teachers unions, and set out a new $38 million pay system that linked instructor compensation to student achievement.

The results were especially surprising in light of the fact that in almost every other way, Idaho voters delivered a victory to the Republicans in Election Day. Enough Republican legislators were elected to the state governing body to maintain a strong party majority, and voters overwhelmingly turned out to cast ballots for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. David Adler, who analyzes elections for the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, said that the loss will cost Luna more than just the $6 million he spent to get the voters on his side. It was a repudiation from which Adler doesn’t expect Luna to rebound for some time.

Luna didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Wednesday morning.

His disputed education changes, passed by the 2011 Idaho Legislature, sought to limit union bargaining and peel back job protections for teachers, promote merit pay and lease laptops for high school students via a recently-inked eight-year, $180 million contract with Hewlett-Packard.

Otter was also on board the effort to save the laws, in a campaign that will go down as one of the most expensive in Idaho history.

There was a lot of money flowing into Idaho both in support of and in opposition to the Luna laws. The National Education Association, the national umbrella group for the state’s teachers unions, spent heavily — they poured over $4 million into the campaign to defeat the laws.

Meanwhile, Frank VanderSloot, owner of Idaho Falls-based health products direct marketer Melaleuca Inc., single-handedly injected nearly $1.5 million in the days preceding the election into the pro-overhaul effort, in hopes that the “Luna Laws,” as their foes derisively described them, would survive.

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