Prepared remarks by Idaho Education Association Committee President Sherri Wood for the Senate Education Committee, March 22, 2011.
Senator Goedde and members of the Senate Education Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Senate Bill 1184.
We all know that more than anything, Idaho needs jobs. Senate Bill 1184 will mean hundreds and perhaps thousands of lost jobs for Idaho. By imposing technology mandates and a new pay-for-performance scheme, by eliminating the 99 percent funding floor, and by chipping away at “Use it Or Lose It” funding, the Luna plan means districts will have little choice but to increase class sizes, cut pay, reduce staff, or continue furlough days – perhaps all of the above. The gimmicks in the Luna plan are better hidden now, but they’re still there.
Before I speak more about our detailed concerns, let me say one more time that by expressing our misgivings about this legislation, the IEA is not defending the status quo. As we’ve pointed out, the IEA is not opposed to change. That’s why we played a pivotal role in helping write Idaho’s charter school law. It’s why we assisted in creation of the Idaho Reading Initiative and helped develop content standards, the emergency financial language, and Idaho’s teacher evaluation system.
Idaho educators embrace technology. We already use it to reinforce lessons and expand our students’ educational opportunities. Every Idaho teacher has had training in how to use technology to enhance learning experiences. However, we know technology is a tool that can only supplement – not replace – the guidance of a caring, competent adult in the room.
That is why Senate Bill 1184 is so insidious. I call your attention to subsection 4 of section 9, because it clearly illustrates what we’ve known all along: This legislation trades teachers for technology. 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?
Section 7 of the legislation further chips away at “Use It or Lose It” funding for teacher salaries. The only reason to loosen up this funding mandate is to allow districts to hire fewer teachers and spend the money in other ways. In fact, between the combination of mandating 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. 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?
The bill also continues to push online class mandates; it just changes the way this goal will be attained. As the state decreases support for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, will districts be forced to trade the IDLA’s Idaho-designed, public domain curriculum for proprietary, licensed curriculum sold by out-of-state, for-profit online vendors?
In Section 15, it appears that any school that already has a 1:1 ratio of computers to students will receive its share of the “laptop” money as unrestricted funds. Since Idaho’s virtual charter schools already receive an allocation for 100 percent of their students as “transportation support” under Idaho Code, would this funding in Section 15 represent a double-funding for technology for virtual schools?
The bill’s estimated cost of $5.5 million for FY 2012 is supposedly paid for through savings from two provisions in Senate Bill 1108: the elimination of the Early Retirement Incentive Program and the 99 percent funding floor. Backers say this new bill would annually save between $21 and $35 million in the following five years.
But realistically, where are these savings going to come from? One thing is certain: the savings will not flow from giving every Idaho teacher and student a mobile computing device.
Idaho schools have struggled these past two years with $200 million in cuts. Backers of this bill say that without it, we’ll see more furlough days, pay cuts, and perhaps even layoffs. But it’s clear that with its funding formula changes and technology and bonus pay mandates, Senate Bill 1184 means the very same thing.
Passing SB 1184 while we are attempting to dig our way out of an economic hole is a mistake. Which of us in this room would commit ourselves to new expenses at a time we are unable to afford the bills we already have? Who among us would accept these mandates from the federal government?
The sponsor of this bill claims that it provides flexibility and local control to districts, but that’s a false claim. While it is true that school districts will have a choice on how to spend the money they’re allocated, funding to districts will be cut so significantly that they’ll have to decide between cutting teachers, reducing pay, or increasing class sizes. Some districts may have to resort to all three strategies. Senate Bill 1184 will bring nothing but further losses in Idaho jobs and larger class sizes for our children. We urge you to vote no on Senate Bill 1184.