Over the strenuous objections of all four stakeholder groups who testified – and in the absence of any public testimony whatsoever – the latest version of Superintendent Tom Luna’s bill to trade teachers for technology sailed through the Senate Education Committee today on a 6-3 vote.
In her testimony, IEA President Sherri Wood emphasized that Senate Bill 1184 will kill hundreds, perhaps thousands, of jobs. “Let’s be clear: Senate Bill 1184 creates a permanent line item for computers while reducing the amount of direct teacher time for every student. What does that say about our priorities?”
She noted that the only reason to loosen the “Lose It or Use It’ requirement is to permit districts to hire fewer teachers and spend the money in other ways. “In fact, between the combination of allowing 15 percent for virtual education coursework and raising the ‘Use It Or Lose It’ portion to 10 percent by 2014, Idaho could lose up to a quarter of its current teaching jobs,” she said. “Think about what that will do to class sizes. How is this going to attract teachers to Idaho? How is this going to help our economy recover? Worst of all, what will it mean for Idaho’s children?” (Read Sherri’s full testimony here.)
Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, and Phil Homer, legislative liaison for the Idaho Association of School Administrators, both gave strong testimony against the bill. Echeverria said that while boards appreciate the flexibility they’ve been given through the financial emergency statute passed in 2009 (with IEA’s help), “Unfortunately, we believe that this legislation as written takes some of that flexibility away from school districts by putting some of the funding into line items over which school districts have very little say and may not be needed due to … technology already in place.”
The ISBA called the bill’s five-year plan to reduce salary- based apportionment “an unprecedented move, and one that we cannot support.” Homer said his group was “quite surprised” that the Luna plan’s technology goals and pay-for-performance are funded by shifting money from salary-based apportionment. Laurie Boeckel of the Idaho PTA said its members are concerned with the continuing lack of parent involvement in the plan’s formulation, as well as the way that SB1184 would shift decisions on online class mandates from elected officials including school boards to political appointees (the State Board of Education).
The four-day-old bill appears to be on a fast track toward becoming law. But given the stakeholder groups’ testimony and late-breaking news of the past 36 hours, perhaps the full Senate will be forced to give these matters their attention:
Yesterday, in a letter to committee members, Dr. Linda Clark, superintendent of the state’s largest school district (Meridian-based Joint District 2) wrote that the decisions forced in SB 1184 are “somewhat akin to the notion of telling someone that they are about to lose an appendage and then giving them the ‘choice’ of whether it will be an arm or a leg … it is perplexing that proponents of this legislation are actually suggesting further, significant cuts in funding that is already insufficient to meet the real needs of public education – and then using these funds to fund new initiatives. This is not the time to fund these projects, no matter how worthwhile they may be. The legislature has given school districts the tools to manage the budget crisis. Please allow them to do so – without imposing further cuts, shifts, and/or mandates.” (Read Clark’s full letter here.)
In a letter written today to Boise and Meridian legislators, Clark, her Boise counterpart Dr. Don Coberly, and the chairs of the two districts’ school boards outlined the deep cuts in millions of dollars that their districts will face “over and above any losses due to the economy” if SB1184 becomes law. “Though we support the use of technology to improve instruction and efficiency, and are developing online and blended approaches, we cannot support these reductions to Salary-Based Apportionment,” wrote Clark, Coberly, A.J. Balukoff, and Mike Vuittonet. (See the letter here.)
Please thank Sens. John Andreason (R-Boise), Nicole LeFavour (D-Boise), and Carole McWilliam (filling in for Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, who is attending a family funeral) for their votes against Senate Bill 1184. Also email or call your own lawmakers to urge that they pay attention to the serious concerns over SB 1184 and vote no. (Educators: As always, be sure to make these contacts on your own time and do not use school telephones or computers to contact lawmakers.)