Voter Rejected Education Laws Come Back In Idaho Legislature, Some Without Opposition

Mar 24, 2013

Credit Marlith / Flickr

Four months ago Idaho voters repealed three education laws through ballot initiatives. Now nearly a dozen provisions from those laws are working through the Idaho legislature or have already passed.

Idaho residents voted on three propositions to overturn the laws known as Students Come First. But the laws contained dozens of provisions on things like teacher labor relations and increasing classroom technology. Those who pushed for repeal say voters rejected all aspects, period. That’s how Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association (IEA) sees it.

“It’s been disingenuous to bring back pieces of Students Come First, and then basically claim that Idaho voters didn’t mean to repeal this piece of the law,” she say.  

The IEA is the state wide teachers’ union. It was the chief opponent of the laws and put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the repeal effort. Cyr says there probably are parts the majority of voters would like but it’s impossible to know what those are.

The Idaho Schools Boards Association is pushing several labor bills in the legislature that contain elements of the old laws. For example there’s a requirement that contract negotiations be finished by June or school boards sets the terms. Karen Echeverria with the school boards association says that’s necessary because districts have to have their budgets in place by July.

“And teacher salaries make up 80 to 90 percent of that budget. So we’ve got to know by the end of June what those are going to be,” Echeverria says. “And if we can’t come to agreement, someone has to make a decision and we believe that should be the elected school board members in their districts.”

Teachers and their supporters lambast the school boards for resurrecting that provision. But they’re OK with bringing back other parts of the laws voters killed.

For example there’s been little opposition to requiring districts to post budgets and labor agreements online. And the teachers union itself sponsored a bill to require districts and teachers to negotiate in open meetings. Mike Lanza was one of the heads of the campaign to overturn the laws.

“If you can bring you know, something up that all the major stakeholders agree on I don’t see a reason not to tackle it this year,” Lanza says. “And having negotiations in open meeting is one that is completely uncontroversial.”

Part of the reason Students Come First opponents aren’t fighting everything may be that they’re tired. That’s what David Adler, head of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State says. He says the Students Come First repeal was historic but it took a lot of money, time and energy. Or maybe, he says, it’s just practicality.

“There may be a recognition on the part of those opponents that changes are going to be made and therefor it may be in their interest to come to the bargaining table so to speak to try to shape the final outcome of these provisions,” Adler says.

The teachers union and the school boards association have negotiated on labor bills this legislative session. And some parts revived from Students Come First have been modified to become something teachers can live with.

Adler says it can’t be assumed voters liked any parts of the laws they repealed. But he interpreted comments from the governor and others to mean that nothing from Students Come First would be revisited until voters were asked for their input. 

“But of course that has not occurred,” he says. “The legislature has moved very quickly now to renew some provisions of those propositions.”

Idaho’s State Board of Education did put a task force together to study education improvement. But the taskforce chair told the group at its first meeting they would not deal with labor issues.

Someone who may have some inkling as to what voters think is governor Butch Otter. He says a survey conducted after last fall’s election shows that voters liked parts of the laws. The survey was done by a group that campaigned to keep the laws in place. Results have not been released. Adler says making the survey public is an essential first step to interpreting the voters’ message.  

“There will always be a question about the credibility of the survey, but we can’t even begin to address the results reached in the governor’s private survey until that survey is released,” he says.  “So the time has arrived to release that survey so that Idahoans can have answers to their questions.”

In response to a request to see the survey, a spokesman for governor Otter said the governor does not have a copy and therefore cannot make the results public. The head of the organization which commissioned the poll also refused to release it.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio