Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wolves in sheep’s clothing would gut education

Gov. Butch Otter and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna have positioned themselves as wolves in sheep's clothing when it comes to education.

The fabled wolf dons a sheepskin so as not to alarm his unsuspecting prey and moseys into a quietly grazing herd before unleashing his deadly attack.

The Legislature had repulsed Otter and Luna's surprise attack on the budget for public schools that would have eviscerated the teacher corps, spent the money saved to buy every high school student a laptop computer and paid for online classes that would be required for graduation from high school.

Over two years, the plan would have sent 770 teachers packing.

The proposal created a statewide uproar because legislators and taxpayers are not convinced that computers can replace flesh-and-blood teachers, and they were not willing to gamble the futures of Idaho's children on a high-stakes bet by the governor and his sidekick.

But Otter and Luna are back, this time in wooly garb.

Unlike the old one, their new bill doesn't call for increased class sizes or getting rid of teachers. Instead, it simply guts funding to school districts and leaves them to figure out how to fill the hole.

The bill would leave the districts frantic and in disarray while the state purchases new laptops for students and makes deals with online course providers.

It's the same old one-size-fits-all plan, this time in disguise.

The No. 1 expense in any district is teachers' salaries, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where the districts would be forced to make cuts.

The move is a hamhanded and blatant piece of political gamesmanship that would not change the effect of the proposed budget cuts one iota. Yet, it would allow the governor, the superintendent and legislators to offload responsibility for cutting teachers and increasing class sizes onto local school boards while they walk off blithely licking their chops.

The move is arrogant and contemptuous beyond belief.

If technology can effectively replace teachers, then Otter and Luna are obliged to prove it with verifiable studies or by setting up demonstration projects in existing schools to allow parents and school patrons to develop some experience and comfort with the idea in practice.

No one can be comfortable with the prospect of watching kids being pushed off a cliff without knowing there's something below to cushion their fall.

Cooler heads in the Legislature are wise to the wolves. They should force them to end their stealthy attack and to come to the table to craft a better plan.

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