By Wide Margins, Voters Dump Three Idaho Education Laws

Published November 13, 2012

Idaho voters overturned three education reform laws in November’s elections, sending Republican lawmakers back to the drawing board over online learning, teacher evaluations, and merit pay.

Gov. Butch Otter and state Superintendent Tom Luna made the laws, which they called Students Come First, a policy centerpiece for the past two years. Idaho’s legislature in 2011 passed the three laws limiting collective bargaining, implementing teacher performance bonuses, and requiring online learning.

“Our kids will continue to lag their peers elsewhere,” said Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman in the wake of the law’s defeat.

The laws’ chief opponent was the Idaho Education Association, a National Education Association-affiliated union. The NEA donated $1.1 million to the campaign. Opponents outspent proponents by approximately $3.6 million to $2.8 million, according to the latest Secretary of State filings.

Many Idahoans voted for Republican candidates but against this signature policy of prominent state Republicans. Sixty-five percent of Idaho voters chose Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Voters told the Idaho Statesman they were suspicious of forced technology and heavy emphases on testing. Some said parents, not the state, should buy children laptops, others that teachers unions have “too much power.”

Reform Trifecta
Proposition 1 concerned the law limiting union negotiations with local school boards to one year and requiring a union to prove it represents at least 50 percent of employees. It required schools to reduce staff according to teacher qualifications, instead of seniority, prohibited closed-door negotiations, and required parent input on staff evaluations. Fifty-seven percent of voters rejected it. 

Proposition 2 concerned a performance pay system that made teachers eligible for bonuses worth up to $8,000. Fifty-eight percent of voters rejected it.

Proposition 3 concerned the law requiring school districts to post annual budgets and labor contracts online and the state education department to post online a fiscal report card for each district. It also let postsecondary institutions operate charter schools, required all high school students take two online classes, and promised to provide every high school student a laptop. Sixty-seven percent of voters rejected it. 

New Way of Business
The Students Come First reforms, introduced by state Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde (R-Coeur d’Alene), put Idaho on a 21st century trajectory, said Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Education. Because the reforms were so new and comprehensive, “it is natural that people would have lots of questions,” she said.

“[The repeal] will send our education system backwards,” she said.

The Idaho Education Association wrote its members in February that opponents should focus on Proposition 3 because “it’s easier to get the public riled up about laptops and online classes than contract issues.”

“The union wants Idaho parents to believe that children will be given smashed laptops to replace their fired teachers,” Hoffman said. “And they’re afraid that technology will lead to the unions no longer [having] a stranglehold on the availability of education content.”


Image by Thomas.