The Senate Education Committee discussed potential changes to the biggest portion of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s proposed reforms to public schools, but took no formal steps to tweak or tank the plan.
Senate Bill 1113 contains some of the biggest and most controversial changes in Luna’s reform package, including expanding technology in classrooms and changing the funding formula for school classes, which could lead to larger classes and fewer teaching jobs in the state.
Committee chairman Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the plan likely wouldn’t get through the Senate in its current form. “If something moves forward, it’s going to have to get started this week, or at the very least by the beginning of next week,” Goedde said after the Tuesday meeting.
Luna’s spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said the plan could change to gain more support among lawmakers and the public. “The fact that the bill went back to committee means that changes will likely be made,” McGrath said via e-mail. “When those changes are made, they will probably come forward as a new bill.”
Other parts of Luna’s reform package, including limits on teachers’ labor negotiations and pay for performance bonuses for teachers, have passed the Senate.
Goedde said he and other lawmakers have talked with Luna’s staff and the leaders of education groups about some of the issues with the plan. Among the changes discussed during the committee Tuesday were delaying the implementation of the technology program in high schools and relaxing “use it or lose it” provisions that require districts to hire a certain number of teachers.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said he didn’t know the future of Luna’s overhaul plan, but he expects Gov. Butch Otter, who supports to plan, to push for its passage when the governor returns from Washington, D.C.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, whose leads the House Education Committee considering the other parts of Luna’s plan, said they could stand on their own without the legislation still in the Senate.
Senators also discussed how to set the budget if Luna’s reforms don’t go through. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said schools are facing a $62 million shortfall, and that providing flexibility to local districts is important.
“If it has to happen, the individual district needs to be given the flexibility to implement those budget cuts as they see necessary,” Mortimer said.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who like Mortimer also serves on the panel setting the state budget, said lawmakers should also consider raising revenues to prevent further cuts to schools. “Where we sit right now is in a giant deep hole, and do we want schools to go deeper into that hole,” LeFavour said. She said that if lawmakers don’t fund education, class sizes will increase.