Friday, February 11, 2011

Idaho’s war on education

Idaho has declared war on education.

In the chaos that's ensued since the Legislature discovered that the hole in the budget is four to five times bigger than the $35 million reported by Gov. Butch Otter last month, one draconian budget-cutting measure after another has been swirling around the Capitol rotunda in Boise.

Skirmishes in the war began with a radical education overhaul proposed by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. It includes cutting 780 teachers and replacing them with online instruction, eliminating teacher tenure and ending pay scales based on length of service and educational attainment.

The most recent assault was a proposal to cut the $50 million budget for kindergarten and leave $17 million to be used to help at-risk kids get ready for first grade.

Despite the many studies that show that kindergarten provides major benefits for kids, the Republican sponsor of the bill that would wipe out public kindergarten maintains that kids will do better in school without it.

"In this case, we might actually improve the education system by doing a little bit less," said Rep. Steve Thayn of Emmett.

Then there's Luna's proposal to end a requirement that school district superintendents be trained in education in addition to having a bachelor's degree. Luna himself has no formal training in education.

Luna's proposals and the kindergarten cuts were the frontal assault.

The assault on education's flanks was conducted in a seemingly unrelated hearing on nullification of the federal health care law, better described as a proposal for Idaho to utterly refuse to obey the law.

University of Idaho constitutional scholar David Adler testified that nullification would "flip the Constitution on its head." The Idaho attorney general's office said the measure is unconstitutional on its face and warned that Idaho could risk losing all its federal Medicaid funds.

In response, a man who testified said the public is "tired of being lorded over by representatives" and called the professor a "self-proclaimed scholar."

Knowledge bashing and disdainful dismissal of the well educated are common in Idaho—even among lawmakers who should know better—and it should stop.

Idahoans say repeatedly that they want their kids to get a good education. They want them to succeed, be prosperous and live comfortable, happy lives.

So, when it comes to education, Idaho lawmakers shouldn't be "all hat and no cowboy."

They should rope in more revenue wherever they can find it and protect education instead of waging war on it.

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