Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna outlined the budget impact of his wide-ranging school reform proposal to lawmakers on budget and education committees Tuesday. Luna said his Idaho schools must change because state funding for schools will be inadequate under the current system.
Luna painted a bleak budget picture for public schools: $200 million has been reduced or shifted in the past two years and $60 million in one-time funding that won’t be available next year is bolstering the current budget. He said it’d take 10 years for Idaho tax revenues to grow back to pre-recession levels.
“We cannot allow a whole generation of students to go through an underfunded public education system,” Luna said. “We cannot continue to cannibalize the current system just to keep the current system and we cannot continue to operate on one-time funds and federal bailouts.” Luna said he supports collecting some new revenue, including collecting sales taxes on online purchases, but said it’s unclear whether lawmakers will raise enough revenue to fund fully education at previous levels.
Luna’s reform plan, which would take several years to execute, would increase money for technology in classrooms and merit pay for teachers. The plan will be paid for by reducing the number of teachers, mostly by attrition rather than layoffs, according to Luna.
Luna’s changes, including adding almost $35 million in funding to the overall public schools budget, would cost $68.2 million for the next school year, with efficiencies and reductions saving a similar amount. Many more changes would start in the fall of 2012, costing $132 million, with efficiencies saving $121.3 million.
Luna’s planned reforms have already come under fire from the Idaho Education Association, which represents teachers, and Idaho Democrats. Many lawmakers haven’t come out supporting or opposing the plan as a whole. Luna tried to reject claims that the plan is radical, though Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the plan is wide ranging.
“All put together and to come up with the funding within the existing budget is ambitious and creative,” Cameron said.
Starting in the fall of 2012, all incoming ninth graders would receive a laptop from the state, costing $4.7 million in total, and be required to take two classes every year of high school.
“We must recognize that hardcover textbooks are becoming a thing of the past,” Luna said. “We must invest in technology.”
Under the plan, the starting salary for new teachers would increase slightly to $30,000 and teachers would be eligible for pay-for-performances ranging from $2,000 to $8,000. Teachers would get bonuses based on improvement in students’ academic growth, based on statewide targets, as well as taking on leadership roles in schools, and taking hard-to-fill teaching spots. The merit pay plan would cost $38 million during the school year starting in the fall of 2012, and $51.3 million in all following years.
The biggest savings would come from increasing the student-teacher ratio by approximately two students in every class. That would lead to a reduction of 770 teaching jobs across the state.
“Great teachers know how to handle one or two more students,” Luna said.
Another proposed efficiency is reducing the 99 percent Average Daily Attendance (ADA) protection for districts. The ADA prevents school districts with large drop in students from seeing a drop of more than 1 percent in funding. If districts have a drop in enrollment, teachers and staff could be laid off, though they would receive severance pay of 10 percent of their salary. Luna said getting rid of the ADA protection would affect 50 school districts and save the state $5.4 million a year.
Lawmakers had many questions for Luna. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, wanted to know how many school classrooms could handle more students in a classroom. Luna didn’t have that information on hand. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, questioned Luna’s assertion that research shows smaller classrooms don’t help student performance.
“The same teacher with a very large class or a very small class … will see some difference,” LeFavour said.
Cameron said that the reductions in teachers and potentially more than 300 other staff, would impact local communities. “I have to wonder in my mind how 1,000 less people working helps the economy,” Cameron said.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, questioned how the state could monitor high school students using state-funded laptops. “I’m just curious if we are prepared to take care of these problems,” Pearce said, adding that students could cheat on tests, look at pornography, or hack into local businesses.
Luna said that Idaho’s looked at other states that have issued laptops and is aware of the potential pitfalls. Luna also said students could keep the laptops after they graduate, which would be an added incentive to keep them operating. Luna said it would be up to local school districts to decide whether students could take the laptops home from school.
Cameron closed the meeting saying that Luna gave lawmakers a lot to talk about. Lawmakers will still need to approve the public schools budget and any statutory changes in Luna’s reform plan.
“We cannot continue to cut the current system further,” Luna said. “So the option is to change the current system.”