Opinion by Wayne Hoffman
Schools Superintendent Tom Luna has proposed an education improvement agenda that makes amazing sense and is long overdue. There's a truckload of bias in my statement. The plan pretty much reflects what I, and my friends who believe in limited government, want from the Legislature this year in terms of public schools: In my column last week, I said I want an overhaul of the public education system, support for digital learning, better pay for the best teachers, focus on student achievement not school bureaucracies, limiting teachers' union contracts to time and content and requiring labor negotiations to be conducted in public. All of this is contained in Luna's plan.
Said Luna, "It’s time to make systemic and comprehensive changes to our public education system – changes we’ve talked about for years but never implemented. These changes are not only necessary, they are changes that the electorate demands, the economy requires, and our students deserve."
You know it makes sense because the Idaho Education Association is fuming. The union, in a statement, said there are elements of the plan its members "will find praiseworthy" but didn't identify what those are. Rather, the union blasted the proposal in total as a "a radical restructuring of education" that is unsupportable during a budget crisis.
Let's make this point clear. For the union, the time is never right to fix what ails public education. In good times and bad, the IEA has stood in the way of major reforms -- reforms that would lead to increased education achievement, better schools and better pay for teachers. Indeed Luna has identified reforms that would rocket our education system forward. Stuck in neutral, Luna would turn Idaho's schools a model of 21st century innovation, one that could be replicated nationwide.
The union went on to say that Luna's plan "presents the Legislature and Idaho families with a false choice: support students or support teachers."
This is the tagline opponents use for every education reform ever proposed. In fact, the American Federation of Teachers released a statement last week regarding Michelle Rhee, the former head of the District of Columbia schools, who is now on her own education reform crusade. Said the AFT, "Michelle Rhee’s agenda presents a false choice: support students or support teachers." Sound vaguely familiar? You just read the same words a paragraph ago from the IEA.
That aside, you will hear the line repeated over and over again. The IEA will campaign and try to convince the public that policymakers like Luna are trying to divide students and teachers, and that this plan is all about hurting teachers who are but cogs in the education machinery. That's just not fair or true. We have some of the best teachers in the country working in Idaho, and Luna's plan would finally reward those teachers for their hard work. At the same time our schoolchildren -- and I have two in the public education system -- would be rewarded with a superior, modern public education.
What it comes down to is this: Our kids deserve an education system that aspires to be more than it is, and delivers more results than it does. Luna's proposal gets us closer to that goal than we've ever been.
Wayne Hoffman is executive director of Idaho Freedom Foundation.