State Superintendent of Education Tom Luna's proposals need to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb by the Idaho Legislature, who hopefully will understand the true costs and impacts of what he is asking.
Take his proposal to give every secondary student in the state a laptop computer. On the surface, it sounds great. But the hidden costs are enormous and will be born by school districts. At a time when education funding is extremely tight (unless you're a charter school), pouring millions of dollars into new technology may not be the most advantageous use of tax dollars. The state cut all funding for textbooks last year, and doesn't look like it will restore it. But textbooks are probably needed more than computers.
Granted, some of the software could be used to replace textbooks, but the state isn't going to be paying for that software. That will come from the local school districts, and anyone who's tried to buy major software these days knows that one program can cost as much as $1,000. Multiply that by every secondary student in a district and the costs could get out of hand quickly. Even if Luna's software company campaign contributors cut the state a deal, it's still going to be pricey, and it's a cost he's not including in his proposed budget.
Luna talks on one hand about how teachers are the education system's most valuable resource, but on the other hand his budget would cut the number of teachers available around the state. The number of students in a classroom would rise to the point where teachers would have little time to be more than babysitters. The more students in a classroom, the less "individual" time a teacher can give a struggling student. We need more teachers, not less. Software will not solve that problem.
He also wants to clearly break teacher unions. Since both the words "teacher" and "unions" don't have great standing in the legislature, his proposals to limit bargaining capability will probably pass. In doing so, he will create a climate in which Idaho will have difficulty competing for the best teachers available. The quality of the workforce will decline as a result.
He wants teacher salaries to be based on pay for performance, which sounds good, until you actually try and do it. There are simply too many variables to come up with any system that would be fair and objective.
Luna has always been more interested in charter schools and home schooling than public education, and it shows in his proposed budget. Yet most students attend public schools.
Improvements in education are always welcome. We ask teachers and students to accomplish more today than we did in the past, and by and large they both succeed. We can always get better and new ideas are worth looking at.
But Luna is attempting to re-invent the wheel at a time when the limited money available is needed to keep the one we've got rolling. Now is not the time to launch many of these initiatives. Until we have the time and, more importantly, the money to do it carefully and right, it's probably better that we stick to the basics right now.