Friday, February 22, 2013

Legislature shouldn’t defy voters

Will the Republican majority in the Idaho Legislature reject the words of President Abraham Lincoln, who described the nation’s system as “government of the people, by the people and for the people” in his famous Gettysburg Address?

Will Republican legislators rebuke the members of the public who elected them by resuscitating education-reform laws that voters overturned overwhelmingly in a statewide referendum in November?

And, will they change another law to make it more difficult for voters to challenge the decisions of the Legislature?

The stage is set for both to happen, but neither should.

In November, Idaho voters gave a big thumbs down to laws that would have required students to complete online courses in order to graduate from high school, provided laptop computers to every high school student, reduced the number of teachers in the state in order to pay for the courses and computers, and limited collective bargaining issues between local school boards and teachers to matters of compensation. Previously, class sizes, training and instruction were part of the collective bargaining process.

Voters were upset that the Legislature bypassed teachers entirely in passing the laws and imposed its own untested, unstudied and unproven practices and structures on schools.

In other words, the state’s conservative voters were—surprise!—conservative and voted against sweeping, radical changes in education whose consequences were far from clear.

In the wake of the election, Gov. Butch Otter acknowledged the will of the voters and the gulf between reformers and teachers by putting together an education task force to find a way forward.

But the task force apparently didn’t satisfy an impatient Idaho State School Boards Association that started the legislative session by urging legislators to revive many of the provisions of the rejected laws, to supplant the judgment of voters and to give school boards blunt legal instruments that could be used to silence and punish teachers.

The ISBA’s bills were somewhat revised after it was forced to negotiate with the Idaho Education Association, the teachers union. A Senate committee approved three bills for introduction last week that still revive many of the provisions in the laws that voters threw out.

The full Legislature should side with the governor, let the task force do its work and let the matter of education “reform” lie for a year. Any broad action at this point will do more harm than good and delay the healing that must occur before rational and wise decisions on education can be made.


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