POST FALLS — Tom Luna wants “Students Come First” to stay on track. The Idaho Education Association teachers’ union wants to repeal those sweeping education changes passed by the Legislature last year. Voters will decide the fate of the laws on Nov. 6. Luna, Idaho’s public schools chief, said going back to the old ways of teacher contracts and compensation and not requiring online courses to graduate would be taking a step backward for students, teachers and taxpayers. “It’s a path we can’t go back on,” Luna told the Panhandle Pachyderm Club at Templin’s Red Lion Hotel on Friday. But teachers unions believe the package spends money on unproven technology, silences teachers’ voices and compromises education due to more emphasis on standardized tests.
The three referendums on whether to approve or reject education reform laws include:
• Proposition 1, limiting teacher collective bargaining;
• Proposition 2, providing teacher merit pay based on test scores, hard-to-fill positions and leadership; and
• Proposition 3, phasing in laptops and making two online courses a graduation requirement.
Luna and Gov. Butch Otter encourage voters to vote ‘yes’ on all three proposals, while the Idaho Education Association teachers’ union argues for a ‘no’ vote on all three.
A simple majority (50 percent plus one) is required for the laws to remain in effect.
When asked by a meeting attendee what he believes are the chances that the laws will stay put, Luna said 50-50.
“That’s why I’m here,” said Luna, adding that funding for advertising from state and national union groups will make it a challenge to keep the laws.
Prop 1 phases out tenure, eliminates the practice of “last hired, first fired” and requires teacher contract meetings to be open.
“We want to let the local school boards manage the affairs of the districts, including with labor issues,” Luna said, adding that allows teachers, parents and patrons to provide more input.
But Penni Cyr, IEA president, said Prop 1 takes away teachers’ voices.
“Prop 1 prohibits teachers from negotiating important issues like class sizes and funding for school supplies with their school board,” she said.
Prop 2 on teacher compensation makes student achievement and hard-to-fill positions — not just longevity and education — among the factors with salaries.
“It’s fair and long overdue,” Luna said, adding that eight out of 10 teachers are receiving a bonus of an average of more than $2,000 after the first year of the program.
Cyr said the IEA believes rewarding excellence in teaching, but Prop 2 isn’t the way to do it.
“We believe that for incentives to work, Idaho teacher salaries first need to be restored to the levels they were at before the Legislature began slashing budgets, well before the Luna bills were passed,” she said. “Once teacher salaries are restored, ways to further reward exceptional teachers should be explored collaboratively.”
Luna said Prop 3 on laptops and online learning is critical because it better prepares students for the future.
“We’re not plowing new ground (with laptops and requiring online courses),” Luna said. “We’re just bringing Idaho up on what’s happening around the U.S.”
Luna said when the state asked districts if they wanted to be among the first third of districts to receive laptops, 85 percent of them responded that they did.
“Don’t let anybody tell you that schools don’t want these,” Luna said.
Cyr said the IEA embraces technology in the classroom, but not as a replacement for the classroom
“Kids need and deserve caring, professional teachers to teach and guide them through their lessons with their peers — not impersonal, isolated online classes,” she said.