Printed on: October 04, 2012

Fleeing Luna's public schools

For many in education, "Luna" has become a four-letter word. What else could explain more than 3,000 Idaho educators fleeing the profession in the two years since their boss, State Superintendent Tom Luna, strong-armed through the Legislature a reform package that increases class sizes, shreds collective bargaining rights and forces upon them a merit pay system many view as arbitrary and unlikely to make up for the salary reductions they have experienced in an age of budget slashing and income tax cuts for the rich?

Luna says his Students Come First reforms are not to blame for the exodus. No, it's the economy's fault. But that argument defies the numbers and common sense.

Three years ago, 716 Idaho teachers left the profession, according to data from the State Department of Education. Last year, following the divisive legislative debate over Luna's reforms, that number jumped to 1,276. This year, that disturbing trend continued with 1,884 Idaho instructors fleeing for greener pastures.

According to the data released by Luna's shop, of those 1,884 who left this year, 127 were fired and 143 got laid off. A far greater number, 957, left for "personal reasons." The whole blame the economy argument seems counterintuitive. During a tight employment market, aren't people more inclined to hold onto jobs, even if they don't like the boss?

Not in teaching. Not in Idaho. Not when the man elected to lead the public schools wages war on "union thugs" and "union bosses," ignoring the fact that the Idaho Education Association is not made up of some back-East faction plotting our demise, but your friends, your family members and the kindly woman teaching your 10-year-old. Not when teacher pay is lousy. Not when Idaho is 50th in per-pupil spending. Not when, as was recently discovered by Idaho's longtime chief economist, Mike Ferguson, the state's citizens are spending 23 percent less of their personal income on public schools than they did a decade ago.

Not to worry, says Luna's office. Experienced teachers can be replaced by newbies, including hundreds who didn't waste time going through one of those four-year education factories. Instead, alternative certifications get them in the schools quickly and we don't mind one bit if they haven't been trained to manage a classroom or understand cognitive development. In a few years, when these folks burn out and seek new career paths, we'll have a fresh wave of $30,000 per-year neophytes ready to replace them -- perfect for a state determined to do education on the cheap.

Luna can spin this all he wants, but the numbers don't lie: 3,160 teachers gone in two years is an epidemic. Unless, of course, that was your goal all along.

Corey Taule