One week from today, on Friday, January 21, the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will hold a historic, first-ever public hearing to take citizen comment about K-12 education funding.
When JFAC set this hearing last month, everyone assumed that the big topic would be how to avoid making further cuts to Idaho’s public schools, which have already lost about $200 million in funding over the past two years.
But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has hijacked that important debate with his plan, revealed this week, to radically alter the way Idaho schools do business. The fact is, Idaho’s K-12 budget may still sustain cuts for FY 2012, and the Legislature certainly won’t be restoring the $128 million it cut for the current school year.
The funding issues won’t go away. However, what Idaho educators and our allies most need to do now is speak out about Mr. Luna’s plan and its real-world implications for children and learning. Educators and parents – not government bureaucrats – are the ones who know how to put “students first,” as Mr. Luna’s plan claims to do.
Mr. Luna says that his plan uses existing money, trading teachers for more technology. We know it will mean three things for Idaho schools: Larger classes, fewer teachers, and Idaho taxpayer dollars going out of state to for-profit online education companies.
That’s what we need to tell JFAC next week. That’s what we need to be sure our legislators understand as debate on the plan continues.
Of course, most Idaho educators will be in class on January 21. That’s why it’s especially important to email members of JFAC if you can’t be there, and to encourage parents and grandparents who are able to attend to show up at the Statehouse.
The January 21 hearing will run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Because testimony will be limited to 3 minutes per person, it’s possible that not everyone who attends will get a chance to speak. People who come should bring a copy of their written testimony in case time runs out.
What should we say?
JFAC focuses on spending. Its members – and your own legislators – want to be sure Idaho uses taxpayer dollars wisely. Be positive, be specific, and speak out about how the choice to fund – or not to fund – Mr. Luna’s plans will have an impact on Idaho schools.
They need to know that larger class sizes hurt kids. Talk about how small class sizes help teachers provide individual attention. Mr. Luna says “no credible study” shows that class size impacts learning, but teachers know that class size matters, and that Mr. Luna is low-balling actual class sizes when he claims they will only increase from 18.2 to 19.8. Parents have – and should share – concrete examples of how their children have done better in smaller classes.
They need to know that technology is just another tool. Technology doesn’t guarantee success, and it is no substitute for what matters most in education: a caring, competent educator in the room. Online classes, virtual field trips, and computer programs like Apangea Math can supplement classroom learning, but they cannot replace face-to-face, interactive learning and collaboration.
They need to hear – and ask – hard questions. How much of the Department of Education’s spending for online classes already goes out of state to for-profit companies including Virginia-based K12, which runs the Idaho Virtual Academy? How much money is K12 already spending to tell Idaho parents that their children are unhappy in school and should switch to an online school? How much more will K12and other out-of-state vendors receive if Mr. Luna’s proposals are made law? How many Idaho educators – a vital part of Idaho’s economy – will lose their jobs to fund Mr. Luna’s experiments?
Many educators will be working Friday and unable to attend the hearing. So talk with the parents, grandparents, and small business owners you know. Urge them to set up a carpool and attend the meeting in Boise if they can – and to bring written testimony, in case they don’t get called on to speak.
People who can’t attend can submit testimony via this link. (Select “Choose a Joint Committee,” then “Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.”)
We all need to be contacting our own legislators, too, particularly people who live in districts represented by members of the House Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee. They’re the ones who will initially be hearing and voting on Mr. Luna’s bills, perhaps as early as next week. They need to know now how Idaho educators and parents feel about these proposals!
Thanks for all you do. With one week of the 2011 Idaho Legislature behind us, we are confident that concerned Idaho educators, parents, and taxpayers will speak up forcefully to question the radical restructuring that Mr. Luna proposes.