Debate Over Idaho's Education Laws Comes Down To Political Philosophy

Oct 2, 2012

For some the most important thing on Idaho’s November ballot is not a candidate but three referenda. They ask voters to keep or reject the state’s 2011 education laws known as Students Come First.

Tuesday, at Boise’s City Club, schools’ superintendent Tom Luna, the laws’ champion, had a fiery exchange with state Representative Brian Cronin, one of the most prominent critics.

An audience question at the forum revealed the political philosophy behind parts of Students Come First. Superintendent Luna was asked if the rift between him and the state’s teachers could be healed.

“This divide is not between teachers and me, it’s not between teachers and my department,” Luna said.  “It is between union leaders. They have never dealt with me in good faith, from the moment I was elected in 2006 they began to orchestrate and organize against me.”

The Idaho Education Association has opposed Students Come First since it was introduced in 2011. And Luna and the statewide teachers union have a long history of antagonism. There is a lot in these laws, pay for performance, a laptop for each high school student, an online class requirement.

But much of the law voters must consider in Proposition 1 is meant to curb the influence of the IEA. For example if a contract agreement isn’t reached between a local union chapter and  a school district by a certain date, the district decides the terms.

Cronin responded to Luna’s assertion that his problem is with the union not teachers.

“It’s very convenient for the superintendent to talk about unions as if they’re something different.” He continued, “folks, the teachers union is made up of teachers. Two thirds of teachers across the state belong to the Idaho Education Association.”

Whether you vote no or yes on Prop 1, may come down to how you feel about unions.

Most Unions in Idaho have relatively little power thanks to a law passed in the 1980s known as Right to Work. City Club moderator Jim Weatherby began Tuesday’s event by reminding listeners that few referenda of this kind have ever come before Idaho voters and most have failed. One of those he mentioned was an effort to repeal Right To Work.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio