Education reform dominated discussions during the 2011 Idaho Legislative session, and on the last day of the session, the Idaho Senate approved several changes to state schools superintendent Tom Luna’s reform plan. The tweaks include an emergency clause that could hinder efforts at a voter referendum on the plan and reinstating protections for one year for districts with declining enrollments.
The four pieces of legislation are called trailer bills because they trail a bill that had already been approved. They adjust several portions of Luna’s “Students Come First” plan, which increases technology spending in classrooms while reducing money for educators’ salaries, create pay-for-performance bonuses for teachers and administrators and reduce teachers’ unions ability to negotiate contracts with school districts.
Several of the new bills include an emergency clause, making the legislation retroactively to start this January. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said that would prevent a court injunction, though critics including Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, say it could thwart citizens’ rights to have a referendum on the reform plan. Goedde said there’s still the chance for a petition for a referendum.
One piece of legislation approved restores for one year the average daily attendance protection for districts with declining attendance. If attendance next year drops by more than 3 percent, districts would still get 97 percent of the past year’s funding. Under Luna’s reforms, the 99 percent protection was completely eliminated.
The trailer bills made other changes. One prevents what Goedde called a “switcheroo,” in which school boards could not be bargaining in good faith. It also increases the exemption to the “use it or lose it” requirement, which increases districts’ ability to hire fewer staff while still receiving full state funding.
LeFavour said that expansion could be bad for teachers and some students. “This is the part where class sizes get larger,” she said.
The package also allows school boards to set up their own criteria for awarding teacher bonuses and eliminates some double counting of teacher union members, which Goedde said would benefit the unions. The reform plan requires unions to prove they represent at least half of the teachers in a district.
The Senate also approved education legislation that gets rid of requirement that districts spend a certain amount on building maintenance. Similar relief was given the past two years. It also allowed districts to continue to ask voters to convert building levies to supplemental spending on other parts of education whenever the state lowers its funding for public schools.
All the trailer bills to the reform plan now head to Gov. Butch Otter for his consideration.