Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Misguided frugality

Idaho voters have consistently taken two entirely contradictory positions in polls conducted around the state.

The first is "no new taxes."

The second is "no more cuts to public education."

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna believe strongly in the first mandate.

The second they're ignoring, perhaps because the first has more support.

Luna proposes to roll back Idaho's education structure to a time most parents and students don't remember in order to bring expenses into line with revenues that are projected to leave the state $60 million short by the year 2012.

Luna says the Legislature has to have the political will to raise taxes to fund the current system or have the political will to change the current system.

Without higher taxes, Luna wants to eliminate 770 teaching positions over the next two years, increase class sizes in grades four to 12, end teacher tenure, buy every ninth-grade student a laptop computer and require high school students to take online courses.

These proposals would tear down decades of improvements in education.

Larger classes would mean that ordinary students as well as those with special needs may get less individual attention.

Reducing the number of teachers will limit the variety of subjects students can explore before choosing a line of work or pursuing higher education.

Ridding the system of tenure, without installing other teacher protections, is a sure-fire way to politicize education and make teachers vulnerable to pressure to hew to popular notions that may be "politically correct" even if they are scientifically or historically inaccurate. It would make teachers' jobs vulnerable to influential but disgruntled patrons and could prompt the best teachers to flee.

Luna constructed his plan with little or no input from education groups, who supported his opponent in the last election, and that smacks of payback.

Luna's right to want all students to have computers. They're indispensable. However, computers are no substitute for teachers or for hands-on experience in well-equipped labs.

Luna's slash-and-burn plan would maim the quality of education.

But what recommends it is that maybe, just maybe, when parents find their kids unable to secure admission to college or to get jobs because they are unprepared, maybe then they'll rethink their "no new taxes."

Unfortunately, it's kids, not parents, who will suffer the lifelong impacts of this misguided frugality.

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