Reform Referendum Heats Up in Idaho

Published October 16, 2012

Idaho voters will decide on November 6 whether three education reform laws will stay on the books.

In 2011, the Idaho legislature passed three laws championed by state Superintendent Tom Luna in 2011. Proponents refer to the trifecta as Students Come First, but opponents call them Luna Laws. They limit collective bargaining, implement teacher performance bonuses, and create more transparency in school governance.

The laws’ chief opponent is the Idaho Education Association, a National Education Association-affiliated union. The NEA has donated $1.1 million to the campaign, which reported $1.3 million in income through Sept. 30. The law’s supporters raised $164,857 by then, according to the Idaho secretary of State’s office.

Reform Trifecta
Proposition 1 concerns a new law limiting how unions can negotiate with local school boards. Negotiations have a one-year time limit, and a union must prove it represents at least 50 percent of employees to demand collective bargaining. Schools must make staff reductions by teacher qualifications, not seniority, closed-door negotiations are prohibited, and staff evaluations must include parent input.

Proposition 2 concerns a performance pay system that makes teachers eligible for bonuses worth up to $8,000.

Proposition 3 concerns the law requiring school districts to post their annual budgets and labor contracts online and the state education department to post a fiscal report card for each district online. The law creates a technology funding formula and allows high school seniors who have completed graduation requirements to complete up to a year of post-secondary courses online. The law also lets postsecondary institutions operate charter schools.

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

“If the laws are repealed, it will send our education system backwards,” she said. “Right now, we are on a path to creating a uniform education system in which every student has access to the best educational opportunities no matter where they live or go to school.”

The Idaho Education Association wrote its members in February that the “bills have a lot to digest—and plenty for everyone to dislike.” It said 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 IEA and several of the state’s school boards claim Proposition 3 will replace teachers with laptops.

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

If the propositions fail, “Our kids will continue lag their peers elsewhere,” Hoffman said.

Image by Fairfax County.