March 9, 2011- Despite overwhelming opposition from the public, the first of three bills designed to radically privatize much of Idaho's education system passed in the state's House Tuesday, sending the measure to the governor.
Senate Bill 1108 passed on a 48-22 vote; it had earlier passed the Senate by a narrower margin. Gov. Butch Otter is among the bill’s co-sponsors and has indicated he’ll sign it into law.
Nine Republicans joined every House Democrat in opposing the bill; only Republicans voted in favor. But the debate Tuesday was dominated by the bill’s opponents.
State Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, said, “Let’s stop pretending that SB 1108 has anything to do with” improving student achievement. “The bill intends to dismantle the Idaho Education Association, put teachers in their place, and make sure that teachers are effectively silenced … where frankly their expertise ought to be welcome.”
The bill phases out tenure for new teachers, putting all teachers on one- to two-year contracts. It strips seniority as a factor in determining layoffs, limits teachers' collective bargaining for salaries and benefits and entirely removes negotiations over issues like class size and workload. One of the other two bills included in the plan is expected to pass the House this week after having been approved by the Senate. It would institute merit pay for teachers, further limiting their ability to negotiate salary in collective bargaining. The third leg of the plan—which would dramatically increase class sizes, eliminate 770 teacher positions through attrition and institute mandatory online classes for high school student—has proven too controversial for the state Senate, and is unlikely to pass as written. The major stumbling block is class sizes.
The state's paper of record, the Idaho Statesman, lambasted the legislature in an editorial today: "But 48 House Republicans weren’t about to let public outcry and unanswered questions get in their way. In a partisan power play—fueled by an artificial sense of urgency—they voted to rewrite the teachers’ collective bargaining process." That public outcry has been loud and overwhelming. Public testimony, calls and e-mail to the legislature have been overwhelmingly negative, 95 percent in opposition to the plan.