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Idaho Education Proposal Modified (But Not Too Much)

After a lot of frenzied debate, Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter have offered a series of changes to their sweeping schools proposal—though they left in place controversial plans to cut hundreds of teaching jobs, reduce teacher job protections, and raise class sizes.

The Idaho proposal seeks to save money by phasing out hundreds of teaching jobs over time, and reducing class sizes slightly. Savings would be poured into a pay-for-performance plan and new technology and virtual education, among other plans.

The proposal also calls for major changes to teachers' job protections and evaluations. One measure that's part of the package, dubbed "Students Come First," would restrict teachers' collective bargaining to salary-and-benefits issues (similar proposals have been put forward in other states). Another would also eliminate seniority as a factor in determining teacher layoffs, and require that 50 percent of the evaluations of teachers, principals, and superintendents be tied to student performance. And it would phase out tenure for all newly hired teachers, and put them on two-year rolling contracts, after an initial three-year probationary period, a spokeswoman for Luna said.

A few of the changes that Luna and the governor are backing:

  • The state would boost the minimum teacher salary to $30,000 (that's in the bill now) but also implement a mechanism for raising the minimum salary in the future.
  • Local school boards would be required to conduct at least one performance review before deciding not to renew an employee's contract.
  • Students will be required to take four credits online any time during high school, a decrease from the previous eight credits.
  • School districts will be allowed to meet requirements through a blend of online and in-person instruction, as long as the majority of the instruction is online.
  • Districts will be given more flexibility on how to meet requirements for mobile computing devices, as opposed to the previously proposed mandates that require them to be given to all students at various grade levels under specific deadlines.

Will these changes satisfy skeptics of the legislation? That seems doubtful. The Idaho Education Association said this week that lawmakers' changes to the proposal so far have amounted to an "oil change when they really need a new transmission."

But the ride's not over yet. We'll see what legislation emerges at the end of the road.

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