Will Idaho Vote to Repeal Tom Luna’s Ed Reforms?

Controversy over Idaho’s Students Come First laws, which curtail union collective bargaining, introduce merit pay measures and call for greater investment in education technology, continues as the clock ticks down to November and Election Day. Opponents of the laws managed to collect the necessary 75,000 signatures in order to put the choice to repeal all three on the statewide ballot, and the referendum could spell a repeal for the 2011 legislation.

This means that the state’s airways and billboards have been blanketed by snappy campaign slogans both supporting and opposing the measures. Although neither campaign is obligated to reveal their final financial statements until October, the fundraising has been brisk, and both sides expect to raise and spend in excess of $1 million in order to sway voters.

The laws deal with familiar issues in the nationwide education reform debate. The so-called “Luna laws” — named after Idaho’s Superintendent of Instruction Tom Luna — rolled back the collective bargaining power of the state’s teachers, as well as mandated that teacher pay be closely tied to student performance. In addition, it laid down the roadmap for widespread technology adoption in high schools, including eventually equipping all students with laptops, and made at least two online courses a graduation requirement for all future Idaho high-schoolers.

The first laptops are to be distributed this fall to teachers, with the first third of high school students getting them next fall. This year’s public school budget includes $38.8 million for the merit-pay bonuses for teachers, $13.6 million for technology and more than $2.5 million for laptops.

Those opposing the law, including the two groups instrumental to getting the repeal on the ballot — the Idaho Education Association and Idaho Parents and Teachers Together — say that the money allocated towards laptops could be more efficiently spent hiring more teachers and reducing the average class size in the state.

Mike Lanza, chairman of Vote No on Propositions 1, 2, 3, the group urging repeal of the Students Come First school reform laws, said: “Consistent with what we’ve said all along, we want to see control of local schools returned to local school boards and educators. So the money that has been appropriated for public schools should rightly go to public schools, but without those strings attached. Our schools need those resources. They’ve been shortchanged for too many years.”

Support and opposition to the laws have fallen along predictable lines. The IEA, the largest teachers union in the state, is heading up the repeal effort and is backed by several other teacher groups. The union has been protesting the laws since Luna first introduced them more than a year ago. Meanwhile, the State Board of Education has shown strong support for the effort both then and now.