Remarks to the Senate Education Committee, February 7, 2011
Sherri Wood, President, Idaho Education Association
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association. Thank you for holding these hearings and once again giving the public an opportunity to talk about Mr. Luna's plan. I stand before you representing 13,000 Idaho educators. Like you, they know that education is central to our democracy and fundamental to our future. We know that all of you, like all of us, want the very best for our children.
It has not yet been a month since Gov. Otter first hinted at Mr. Luna's sweeping plan to turn Idaho education upside down. It has been less than two weeks since the legislation was posted on the Department of Education website. When Mr. Luna briefed JFAC at its pre-session meeting in November, he gave no hint that a plan like this was coming.
Mr. Luna is asking you to remake a public education system that Mr. Luna himself praised repeatedly while seeking another term last year. The Idaho Education Association has many serious issues with Mr. Luna’s plan.
Mr. Luna claims that this plan would increase Idaho student-teacher ratios from 18.2 to 19.8, but several Idaho districts have done analyses of the Luna proposals showing that class sizes – already far higher than that – would grow by three to five students.
And although Mr. Luna says class sizes will not increase before Grade 4, our analysis shows this is not true for small districts with fewer than 168 students in grades 1-3. For example, the Council Schools in Senator Pearce’s district, with 49 children in the early primary grades, would lose more than $107,000 for those grades alone if the Luna plan passes. Statewide, small districts would lose nearly 5 million dollars in funding for our youngest students.
We have no idea where else the figures may be incomplete or incorrect . But Idaho educators believe, as these examples show, that Mr. Luna's plan was hastily compiled and has an agenda that most educators and parents believe is wrong and dangerous for our children.
Much of the attention around the Luna plan has focused on its “mobile computing devices” and online courses, and less has been said about how his “Labor Relations and Employee Entitlements” legislation would gut teacher rights in Idaho. Mr. Luna repeatedly says that highly-effective teachers are the most important part of his plan, yet his proposed legislation goes out of its way to devalue teachers. This goes against a long history of education collaboration in Idaho.
The Idaho Education Association was formed in 1892 in a partnership with elected officials and school administrators as a way to advocate for public schools and the “uniform and thorough” education mandated in our state’s Constitution. In 1950, the state Republican Party platform said, quote, “the security of teachers in their profession MUST NOT be impaired.” And since 1971, Idaho teachers and boards of education have had the privilege of collaborating on master agreements that include not just wages and benefits but a huge array of other factors, including parent-teacher conferences, bell schedules, health and safety issues, and many more. The Luna plan wants to end the evergreen clause and wipe away years – and, in some cases, decades – of work.
Although Mr. Luna’s plan purports to provide for bargaining between teachers and the local school board, in truth, his plan would alter the process to a point where “bargaining” may cease to exist. Instead, the process could easily devolve into a series of sessions where the local school board could repeatedly say “no” until June 11, then impose whatever settlement they want. You can imagine what sort of morale problems our state’s highly effective teachers would have in such a situation.
With the elimination of the 99 percent protection for district funding, teachers can be laid off four or five weeks into the school year if school enrollment drops by more than 1 percent. Can you imagine what life would be like in countless classrooms next September if teachers don’t know whether they’ll have their jobs in a few weeks and students could be herded into larger classrooms.
Contrary to popular belief, Idaho teachers do not have tenure, but many Idaho teachers currently have continuing contracts that give them, their districts, and the families in their schools some assurance from year to year that a teacher will still be there. Think about the havoc the Luna bills will create for families and students and school boards if proven, highly effective teachers can essentially be let go at any time, for no reason.
Teaching is unlike any other profession. We answer to parents – and often grandparents – as well as principals, superintendents, school boards, the state board of education, and the Legislature. Education is not a widgets business; it’s a people business, and teachers need know they can treat the superintendent’s son or the mayor’s daughter the same as other students without fear of losing their jobs.
The vast majority of Idaho teachers are already highly effective and doing the best they can with limited resources. So why do we need to overhaul the whole system, especially in this time of budget crisis? Why not work collaboratively to create more targeted, less costly measures to help teachers continually improve?
Think about the loss of local control that the Luna plan’s passage would mean. The plan strips local decision-making authority, from dictating how and what teachers and districts can and cannot bargain to severely limiting teachers’, districts’, and families’ ability to plan for a stable school year.
Finally, please think about how the Luna plan is NOT answering the real questions that are hurting Idaho schools. We have effective, committed teachers; we don’t have a strongly funded school system where:
• each child has a desk;
• each teacher has supplies (without teachers and parents digging ever deeper into their pockets)
• each child has a current textbook
• and children can take actual – not virtual – field trips to museums, zoos, and special events.
Mr. Luna talks about the “miracle of technology” as if it's something shiny and new, but our teachers have been using clickers for decades and few of us know a high-school student who isn't already fully familiar with computers. Some of you remember in the mid 1990’s when the Legislature first began funding school technology. Over the years, Idaho schools have received millions of dollars to upgrade hardware and software. In fact, because lawmakers wanted to be sure that the money being invested in technology was used effectively, they also required every Idaho teacher to prove they were “technology certified.”
We like a few of the concepts in Mr. Luna's plan, such as allowing students to take dual-credit courses and expanding course selection for teens in small towns and rural districts. But to mandate six online courses for every Idaho student makes no sense; technology is a tool, not a substitute for a caring, competent adult in the classroom.
As educators, we talk with business owners all the time. We don’t hear them telling us they need workers with more technological skills. They say they need young adults who can address complex problems, work as a team, and find creative solutions. These are things best learned face to face, not in front of a screen. Think about your children and grandchildren: Our students have more than enough screen time.
Idaho educators are not opposed to change. Our association helped develop Idaho’s content standards, charter school law, and the Idaho Reading Initiative. We even helped write legislation that would have streamlined the dismissal of ineffective teachers; establish alternative pay measures that take teacher evaluations into account; and lessened due-process rights for new teachers in exchange for mentoring, peer assistance, and professional development.
We know that more changes are needed, especially since Idaho continues to lag nationally in the number of students we send to college and the number that stay. But change shouldn’t be imposed in a reckless, unilateral way; it should be discussed in a thoughtful, thorough, and probably lengthy process that brings all players to the table. We understand, for example, that for its vaunted – and voluntary – laptop program, the state of Maine brought together an 18-member panel to meet eight times over four months. Mr. Luna wants you to pass a much larger legislative package in a fraction of that time, and he has not involved any of the people who will need to make the change work in our classrooms.
It feels as if, here in Idaho, we have made education a political football. We need to stop, for the sake of our children. Idaho educators, parents and visionary businesses know that it just doesn't make sense to tear down our current system and replace it with unproven ideas that will increase class sizes, eliminate about a thousand education jobs, and gut the fair labor standards that Idaho educators AND school districts have worked together to develop over many decades.
Idaho educators and parents – and far-sighted business owners – know we have more than the three options that Mr. Luna has outlined. We can and we MUST do better than the Luna plan, for our children. We urge you to vote no on Mr. Luna’s legislation and invite us all to do the hard work that will result in a system that truly puts students first.