Writings and observations

Lines of attack

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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