Note: This is part 1 of a five-installment series of interviews with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. The series runs Monday-Friday, Dec. 12-16.
Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna believes that opponents of having for-profit companies deliver online school courses in Idaho have a mentality not unlike protestors in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Luna also said that those worried about for-profit education companies providing online school courses might be anti-capitalist in nature. The superintendent was interviewed last week by IdahoReporter.com.
“This undertone that somehow because for-profit companies are going to want to compete for educations dollars is the end of public education as we know it, that is an Occupy Wall Street argument that we see going on all across the country,” Luna said, “where there’s this attack on capitalism and an attack on profits.”
Luna has sometimes found himself a bit on the defensive since the Legislature approved his education reform plans in the 2011 legislative session. One criticism accuses him of privatizing education to funnel dollars to multi-million dollar corporations. His plan has been the subject of several national news articles, including one in The Nation, a progressive news and opinion outlet, which criticized states for the push to privatize education.
“The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning – a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers,” wrote The Nation writer Lee Fang on Nov. 16.
But Luna doesn’t believe the school sector has been free of for-profit companies for a very long time. “The fact is in public education, there have been companies, private companies, that have been making profits on public education long before I was ever state superintendent,” Luna explained. “These are all for-profit companies that have been dealing with K-12 public schools for decades and they make a profit.”
The Republican superintendent, in his second term in the post, says that companies selling everything from books to buses have actually bettered public schools. “It’s been going on for decades and it hasn’t hurt our public education system. In fact, I think it’s made it better,” Luna explained. “We have better curriculum today because for-profit companies are involved in developing it and providing it to our districts.”
Luna says that the marketplace for education products and services will bring costs down and improve efficiency if politicians will allow it to do so.
“You better have the best product and the most cost-efficient product or you’re not going to get business from the local school district,” Luna explained. “That, in and of itself, is going to drive price down and raise quality.”
The education task force created by Luna’s reform package is working to develop a list of approved online course providers. Officials expect to put out request for bids sometime in March or April next year.
Coming Tuesday: Luna discusses what he might have done differently in presenting his education reform package. Video for the series by Mitch Coffman, IdahoReporter.com.