Idahoans saw democracy in action Friday as hundreds of people turned out for the first-ever public hearing held by the state’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Most gratifying for Idaho educators and our allies, testimony among the 90 or so people who got to speak ran about 6-to-1 against State Superintendent Tom Luna’s plan to overhaul education. In fact, until a late wave of testimony favoring the plan, speakers were running about 10-to-1 against Luna’s proposals.
A line formed outside the Capitol Auditorium shortly after the Statehouse opened at 6:30 Friday morning, and by 7, it stretched far back along the Garden Level corridor. As the auditorium seats filled, Idaho Legislative Services staff opened three overfill rooms. Peggy Moyer, secretary to the Senate Finance Committee, estimated at least 500 people showed up for the hearing and about 140 signed up to testify. About two-thirds of them got to address JFAC. The hearing was originally set to run three hours, but JFAC Co-chair Maxine Bell extended that by an hour to give more people – especially those from out of town – a chance to speak.
IEA President Sherri Wood was among the dozens of people who spoke against the plan. “Two weeks ago, Idaho parents and teachers – and you – thought the main debate this session would be how to avoid further cuts to Idaho’s schools. Now, however, you are being asked to adopt a hastily proposed plan developed mostly without the input of professional educators and parents,” she said.
“Mr. Luna believes that Idaho can simply no longer afford to provide a classroom-focused education for our children, so we have no choice but to shift to a system where laptops replace many teachers; where students will spend even more hours each day in front of screens; and where a thousand education jobs will be lost over the next two years. We can do better by our children,” she added. (Read Sherri's full testimony here.)
Teachers and parents from all over Idaho weighed in with their concerns. We blogged much of the hearing earlier today on the Hotline, so you can read back through those posts to see what people said.
Much of the testimony focused on larger class sizes, lost education jobs, and concerns about the technology aspects of the plan. Few people outside the charter and virtual school community expressed full-throated support for Luna’s proposals; some school administrators indicated they like aspects of the plan but expressed reservations, too. Gooding Superintendent Heather Williams said she did not think she could recruit talented teachers – especially from out of state – if the 99 percent funding goes away and schools start laying off staff in the fall.
Today’s hearing was just the beginning. Over the coming weeks, bills to turn Luna’s ideas into state law will reach the House and Senate Education Committees. We’ll be tracking those bills closely as they reach the committees. But it’s not too soon to contact your lawmakers to ask them what they thought about today’s testimony and to reiterate your key concerns about the Luna plan.