Idaho Governor Signs Third Major School Reform Bill

Published April 19, 2011

Idaho lawmakers approved the final piece of Superintendent Tom Luna’s far-reaching education reform plan before the 2011 session deadline, setting the stage for major changes in the state’s public schools.

Gov. Butch Otter (R) on April 7 signed Senate Bill 1184, the final piece of Luna’s plan, which gives local districts greater flexibility in allocating funds previously designated for class size reduction, modestly raises teacher base pay, and increases funding for digital learning and classroom technology.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Idaho students when most states are hunkering down and pulling back because of revenue challenges,” Luna said. “We’ve decided to take action, and because of it students are going to be better off.”

Two other bills backed by Luna phase out teacher tenure while phasing in merit-based pay, add student academic growth and parental input to teacher evaluations, and reduce collective bargaining privileges for public education employees.

Tenured Changed, Tech Pushed
After the Senate approved SB 1184 in March, the House followed with a 44-26 vote on April 1. Legislators formally adjourned the session on April 6. Proponents of the bill resisted the argument that major public education reforms cannot be achieved in times of fiscal austerity.

“I’ve heard many people say because we have less money, we can’t do things differently or try new things,” Rep. Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene) declared during the floor debate. “That defeatist attitude does not serve our children well.”

Originally introduced as SB 1113, along with the two other planks of Luna’s plan, the legislation was withdrawn and resubmitted to remove a state mandate that would have reduced the teaching workforce by 770 people. Other changes included a smaller funding increase for classroom technology, designating a share of the money for teacher professional development, and a three-year delay in issuing laptop computers to all high school students.

Briana LeClaire, an education policy analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said the changes somewhat weakened SB 1184 but the legislation still represents an improvement.

“We have limited means, and we have to adapt,” she said. “Technology has added value in every other sector of life. This is a pretty fair attempt to have that happen in education.”

Union Vows Referendum

Luna expressed satisfaction with the final legislative product. The only significant alteration, he said, affected the online course credit requirement for all Idaho students starting with the high school graduating class of 2016.

Instead of stipulating students must complete a certain number of credits online, the bill leaves the decision up to the State Board of Education this summer before being ratified by a legislative committee in 2012.

“It still accomplishes everything the first bill did; we’re just doing it through rule, not law,” said Luna. “The only thing that may change is that instead of having to take four credits it may be two or three.”

The Idaho Education Association (IEA) has announced it is considering a statewide referendum campaign to attempt to repeal the legislation. IEA did not respond to request for comment.

Ben DeGrow ([email protected]) is senior education policy analyst for the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado.