Writings and observations

The web site 24/7 Wall St. notes in a current post that “Regions with better-educated people tend to find it easier to draw and retain businesses. These regions are also likely to be more competitive in contrast to nations around the world like China, which has posted sharp increases in the level of educational attainment among its citizens.”

Okay, seems clear enough. And the significance of an analysis the site did of the 50 states, working out: “National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for math and reading in 2003 and 2009. We also looked at the percentage of people in each state with bachelor’s degrees, and their increases compared to the increases in the total populations in their states. We analysed the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the portion of each state’s population which has white collar jobs. To supplement the figures which we used in the final analysis, 24/7 also reviewed numbers for high school and graduate school education.”

Fie on them for not noting the rankings of all 50 states, just the lowest 10. Consequently, Washington and Oregon aren’t noted here.

But Idaho is – at fourth from the bottom. It said: “In 2000, 84.7% of adults in Idaho had completed high school. By 2009, the number had dropped to 83.3%. This decrease of 1.71% is the third worst rate in the country. Idaho had the eighth worst percent difference in residents with bachelor’s degrees from 2000 to 2009, and the sixth worst percent difference in residents with advanced degrees.”

Other western states in the top (er, bottom) 10: Colorado (1), Oklahoma (3), Alaska (5), Arizona (6), Wyoming (7), Texas (9), Utah (10). Most of the Rocky Mountain west, in other words.

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Idaho

Always the temptation in public policy to do everything at once, and do it unilaterally. Increasingly, while education funding in Idaho is likely to take a hit this year in any event, the folly of the quick and overwhelming revolution proposed in the new plan by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna is likely to undo some of the useful ideas contained within.

Several effective lines of attack seem to be developing at once.

One is the loss of teachers and the larger class size. That may not be a problem area for Luna and his allies, but it is for a lot of other people, including a lot of people linked to schools (parents included) around the state.

Another is the newness of the effort, and its lack of review. It was a totally unknown quantity until literally less than a month ago, and less than three months before the Idaho Legislature would be asked to pass it. There’s also a criticism that this plan isn’t what Luna ran on for re-election last fall: Not only didn’t he mention it, he ran counter to some of its underlying principles.

And then, just emerging, there’s the “follow the money” argument. Search for Luna’s motivation in proposing the plan in the first place, and if you’re a Luna critic you needn’t look hard to find a money trail. A Public Education Association member (a teacher, a member of the union, in Bill’s Pea Soup) connected those dots neatly in a recent blog post. From it:

Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review reported October 20, 2010 that K-12 Incorporated, a for-profit education vendor based out of Virginia, “donated $25,000 to a Nampa-based political committee… which immediately spent $25,000 supporting the re-election of Tom Luna.” Mr. Luna must refuse these funds or face consequences about whose interests he is beholden to, K-12 Inc.’s shareholders or the parents and students of Idaho.

K-12 Inc. is an embattled company founded by former U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. Bennett who, speaking of reducing crime in the U.S. said, “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down” (Education Week, 10/12/2005, ‘Bennett Quits K12 Inc. Under Fire’).
In 2004, The Pennsylvania School Boards Association sued the state over its contract with K-12 because, the school boards association said, K-12′s potential profit was too great (Arkansas Times, 2/13/2004).
As recently as 2008, K-12 Inc. has been criticized for outsourcing the grading of English papers to India (Education Week, 9/10/2008). Is this Mr. Luna’s platform for education in Idaho? If so, every voter in Idaho should be alarmed, and angry.

This is clear evidence that Mr. Luna has lost touch with those who have a real interest in Idaho’s educational future: parents, students and educators of this state. “I’m not surprised that a special interest organization, a for-profit educational vendor nonetheless, is contributing heavily to a group that is supporting Mr. Luna’s campaign,” Olson said. “This is just more proof that Idaho students are not priority number one for Tom, but rather special interest groups who need to turn a profit from our kids and their test scores. I suggest that he deny the use of these funds as this company has shown to be nothing more than one controversy after another, with no clear interest in Idaho’s school children, their educational quality or educational success and future.”

Failure to deny these funds might suggest Mr. Luna’s interests lie with corporate boards, shareholders, and for-profit education vendors. If this is the case, every taxpayer and parent should wonder, is public education in Idaho for sale?

One more thing, Apple computers was lobbying our representatives last week to pass Luna’s bill.

We remarked before that complex bills tend to – at least in the short run – accumulate enemies faster than they do friends. Luna is probably discovering just that for himself about now.

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Idaho


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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


There’s an old hunting expression, “keep your eye on the rabbit,” that former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus would invoke when a staff person would get “off message.”

In the current debate over Gov. Butch Otter effectively abrogating a key clause in Idaho’s heretofore ironclad agreement with the Federal government NOT to store even a minimal amount of commercial nuclear waste, even that used for research purpose, on an interim basis, it is Andrus who is keeping his eye on the rabbit.

The 1995 agreement was altered by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in the early years of the first decade of this century to allow a minimal amount of commercial waste for research purposes. Gov. Andrus, who initiated the negotiations that led to the 1995 agreement finalized by Gov. Phil Batt, lent his support but suggested that once the research was completed the research waste had to be shipped right back to its point of origin.

The premise for all of this was that all waste would be removed by 2035 and stored at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Years and billions of dollars later it is clear Yucca Mountain will never be opened let alone operational. Likewise, there’ll be no other high level repository anywhere in the nation.

One quickly concludes any waste brought to the INL site will not be leaving for generations to come. This conclusion is inescapable and warrants the warning flag Gov. Andrus has raised. Candidly, the orchestrated campaign by the defenders of the Department of Energy to minimize the Gov.’s warning (it’s been called exaggerated, simply not factual, etc.) confirms that the four-term governor hit the bull’s eye dead center.

Unfortunately, the fact the governor even had to raise the flag speaks to the sad but steady decline by the State in carrying out its oversight responsibility.

Gov. Andrus enjoys a high standing in the minds of Idaho voters astounding for one who has not held elective office for 16 years. Idahoans know, though, they can trust him to look out for the public interest, that he measures his words carefully and his intellect as well as political instincts remain razor sharp especially for one who will turn 80 years young in August.

He began monitoring the activities at the site in the early-70’s and quickly recognized the potential danger posed by poorly stored transuranic (mid level) nuclear wastes. Almost single-handedly he forced the old Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agency, the Department of Energy, to commit to a schedule for removal of this poorly stored waste from above Idaho’s Snake River plain aquifer and repackaging for storage at properly constructed salt caverns in New Mexico.

When the AEC put out a document that was a preliminary effort to find and identify a storage site for accumulating commercial nuclear waste, he appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission of distinguished Idahoans to study the matter, hold hearings and respond. The response was overwhelmingly against Idaho becoming a waste repository for any nuclear waste especially that generated by nuclear power plants.

After returning to the governorship in 1987, he ordered the Idaho State Police in 1988 to place a squad car across railroad tracks just inside the state line with a burly state trooper standing in front with folded arms. The subsequent picture ran in newspapers nationwide, delivering the message to DoE that Idaho was not about to accept any waste from Rocky Flats. DoE got the message and dropped its plans.

Things are different now say the defenders of DoE. Yes, to a degree because of the agreement Andrus started negotiating with the federal agency and Batt finished negotiating in 1995. When Andrus says he fears that agreement has been effectively abrogated by a legal precedent opening the door even a crack to importing more commercial waste allegedly only for interim purposes, Idahoans should sit up and listen.

Since Gov. Kempthorne’s amending of the agreement, the Idaho National Laboratory folks have taken a couple of subtle steps designed to get the state to lower its guard. This includes hiring Gov. Kempthorne’s former press secretary as the site’s communications director and the lead contractor at the site also hired as its chief Boise lobbyist Gov. Kempthorne’s former chief of staff. Those are not coincidences, my friends.

It’s a far cry from 1988 and a sad commentary on how easily some people do not let history be a guide. Andrus, though, knows otherwise. Ten years ago he concluded a chapter on nuclear waste in his book “Politics, Western Style” saying:

“But I still reserve the right to raise hell. My role is that of a kind of human monitoring station on the Department of Energy’s performance. I will be back on the hustings if the federal government welshes on any of the work it has committed to perform.”

With the connivance of the state’s current Gov., the DoE has committed a calculated breach and Gov. Andrus, stepping into the breach, is keeping his eye on the rabbit n which could start to glow much sooner than any one realizes.

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