Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna told a crowd at a City Club of Boise event that his reform plan for public schools isn’t swayed by money given to help his campaigns for office.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Luna said Friday. He said the allegations that campaign contributions affected the reform plan are the latest line of attacks on him since unveiling the plan, following several heated confrontations and property damage to his truck.
Part of Luna’s reform plan is an expansion of computers in schools and a requirement that high school students take four classes online to graduate. During the last election, Luna received more than $24,000 from companies and individuals who work in the online learning arena. One of Luna’s donors, K12, Inc., also contributed $25,000 to a political action committee, Idahoans for Choice in Education, that produced television ads supporting Luna.
K12 also gave Luna $10,000 in his 2006 race for schools superintendent and gave 42 legislative candidates contributions of $200 to $1,500 to 42 state legislative candidates in 2008, according to campaign contribution records filed with the Idaho secretary of state’s office.
Another contributor to Luna’s war chest is Education Networks of America (ENA), a Tennessee company that has a contract with the state to help run the Idaho Education Network, which provides high speed Internet access and online classes to high schools across the state. ENA also gave Luna $2,500 during the 2008 election cycle, and gave contributions to 29 legislative candidates in 2010.
Luna said that the donations from the companies working in online education amount to a small share of his campaign, which raised $234,000 for his 2010 re-election bid. “I have put far more of my own money into being state superintendent than any one group has donated, and if you don’t believe me, ask my wife,” Luna said.
Luna put $63,000 in contributions, loans, and in-kind gifts in his 2006 election, though official records don’t show him making any financial contribution to his re-election race.
Luna said that everyone’s uncomfortable with how campaign money is raised, but that he hasn’t helped any private education companies boost their business in Idaho. That’s because local school districts and charter schools go into contracts with online course providers, which also include public educators like universities and the Idaho Digital Learning Academy.
“All those relationships are between the local school districts and the providers,” Luna said.
Opponents of Luna’s changes to public schools have criticized him for the campaign contributions. A Ridenbaugh Press blog post outlining some of Luna’s contributions from K12, ENA, and other companies has been mentioned on Twitter by the Idaho Education Association (IEA), a teachers’ group that opposes the plan. “Luna’s money trail has diminished what [business] groups have to say,” the IEA said in one of its Twitter posts.