Online Education Requirement Rejected by Idaho Voters

Idaho teachers unions and their supporters are rejoicing this week after voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have severely curtailed the teachers' collective bargaining rights. Also voted down this Tuesday were propositions that would have established a performance-based compensation system for teachers and a requirement that every Idaho high school student take two online or blended-learning courses before being allowed to graduate.

The defeat of online education Proposition 3 puts the state's Superintendent of Education Tom Luna – the author of all three laws which were passed by the Legislature last year – in a difficult position. Prior to the vote, Luna concluded an 8-year contract with Hewlett-Packard to supply Idaho high school students and teachers with laptop computers as part of an effort to increase online learning access and expand the use of technology in the state's schools.

Idaho's upcoming legislative sessions could still provide opportunities to enact new laws, but lawmakers would have to do so without much support from the public. Idaho leans heavily Republican, but the overwhelming repeal of the measures shows the nonpartisan nature of many debates on reshaping education. In Indiana, we already saw Democrat Glenda Ritz defeat incumbent state Superintendent Tony Bennett in a conservative-leaning state. (At the same time, a ballot initiative in Republican-heavy Georgia to establish a statewide charter school commission passed.) For more on state voting results that will affect education, visit our Voter's Guide.

Once the opponents of the three so-called "Luna laws" — officially named the Students Come First laws — collected the necessary 75,000 signatures to put on them in the ballot this fall, the fight between the two sides quickly grew vicious. One group supporting the three propositions – Education Voters for Idaho – was sued for failing to disclose its donor list by Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysura. In court the group argued that its activities didn't fall under mandatory disclosure laws although it used some of its funds to purchase political ads. Among the group's donors were Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg and Albertson's heir Joe Scott, who each donated around $200,000 to the efforts to get voter approval for the Luna laws.

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.

11 8, 2012
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