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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The outline of an education plan

Posted Wednesday, November 14, 2012, at 8:21 AM

The state now has to decide what to do with all the extra education money it has left over after the stunning defeat at the polls of the Luna Laws.

Our reading of the state constitution would indicate it has to be spent on education. But don't hold your breath that it will be just distributed back to the schools. It's a lot more complicated than that. Most of it has to be allocated to a purpose and that means we'll probably have to wait until the legislature meets before the bulk of those funds start to trickle back to the schools.

The teachers also need to realize that, despite their heady victory, the old master contracts aren't going to magically reappear. A lot of the money that paid for the things that were in those contracts just isn't there right now. It's going to take some time to rebuild things and the teachers should take their victory and be patient.

Meanwhile, don't be surprised if the legislature tries something like this again. They've been known to ignore the voters in the past and it's two years until any of them face re-election again. This is the bi-annual "the voters will forget what we do here" session.

What's needed is an education plan to present to the legislature. While the teachers and school board association have spent two years complaining about the Luna Laws (with justification, we believe), their major failure has been to not develop and publicize an alternative plan. They've left the agenda again in the hands of the legislature and Supt. Tom Luna.

So, without a formal Plan B from the state, or an optional plan on the table from the teachers and school board administrators, let's suggest a couple of things that could be done.

First, the state should return the O&M levy to the school districts after since the legislature decided it knew better and took it away. This is a matter of local control and provides some stability to school district financing.

Second, the state should provide more funding for teachers. The one criteria that always shows up on every study for improving student performance is low student-to-teacher ratios. We've got too many kids in classrooms for teachers to be effective. We need more teachers. They can't be hired right away, that will have to wait until next fall in most cases. But districts should be given an idea as soon as possible as to how many more teachers they'll be able to hire (roughly), and let them get started on planning to repair the damage and recover the programs lost over the last few years.

Third, equalize the rules and funding formulas for charter schools so they match the public schools. Giving charter schools the breaks they get has created a virtually public-funded private school system that has hurt the public schools by drawing resources away from most of the students in the state.

Fourth, restore compulsory education to Idaho. Make parents who home-school their children notify the state they are doing so and submit a learning plan and curriculum to the state. Require home-schooled students to be tested using the same standards and tests as those used for public schools, and the same time.

Fifth, we don't think the voters rejected technology in the schools, just the way the state intended to impose it on the local districts. So, after making sure the state's school districts have enough teachers, the rest of that $180 million should be put back into a line of the budget that formerly was for textbooks, a line that hasn't been funded for years. Call it now the "textbooks and technology" line. And let local school districts decide the mix.

Most districts would love to have a computer for every student -- but as a tool for teachers, not as a replacement, and they can probably get them a lot cheaper than the $1,200 machines the state was going to buy (well, actually lease at $300 a year for four years).

Furthermore, let the districts set up their own local criteria for on-line classes -- if any. In small districts in Idaho, it makes a lot of sense, and even in the larger districts having some on-line classes available could be helpful in specific cases.

The problem the voters saw was, frankly, a mean-spirited attempt to get rid of those "nasty teachers" and replace them with mindless computers. Computers are a tool, not a replacement for a caring, trained teacher, and local school districts should decide what tools will be available in a teacher's bag.

For all its bragging and election-year talk about local control, the legislature has consistently been taking it away from school districts and other local governments for years.

The school system wasn't broken until they started tinkering with it (and we think parents are tired of being told by legislators their kids are stupid when they clearly aren't).

Return the money to local control and we'll bet it's spent well and wisely throughout most of the state. Fixing the system isn't going to happen overnight, but the less the feds and the state are involved, the better chance it can proceed quickly.

-- Kelly Everitt

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