Printed on: October 05, 2012

An untapped well for profiteers

Dawn Anderson
Guest columnist

Idahoans need to know where their tax dollars might end up before they cast their votes on the Luna laws, writes Dawn Anderson.Three controversial education reform laws known as Propositions 1, 2 and 3 will appear on the November ballot. Those who care about Idaho education should inform themselves before they vote.

State Superintendent Tom Luna recently collected $100,000 from contributors to win his case for these laws, which would replace teachers with laptops, mandate performance-based pay and eliminate bargaining rights for things like class size. Among Luna's well-heeled supporters is Melaleuca President/CEO Frank VanderSloot, who runs full-page Post Register ads blaming teachers' unions for attacking Idaho schoolchildren and other such nonsense.

Why the push for laptop technology in an age where the average 10-year-old can deftly out-tech the average adult? Check Mr. Luna's campaign donors list, which consists of various for-profit online education companies. One of these, K12 Inc., hopes to gain a foothold in Idaho's education reform. Among K12's policy directives for online education: eliminate class size restrictions, allow outsourcing of Idaho teaching jobs, remove teacher certification requirements and mandate online courses for graduation. School districts would pay for these virtual learning courses out of their per-pupil budget allocation.

Alex Molnar of the National Education Policy Center questions the wisdom of transitioning public education toward a profit-driven model. "One of the striking things about these reforms," he told the Press Herald, "is the extent to which they remove control of the schools from democratic governance and turn them over to corporate decision-making and appointed bodies."

Funding for public schools is a deep, untapped well for profiteers like K12 Inc. It's unfortunate that Idaho legislators sold out so quickly to Superintendent Luna's initiatives without soliciting input from a representative sample of those who know Idaho schools best -- teachers.

When it comes to student achievement, online charters are not keeping up with public schools. Stanford and Western Michigan University studies found that K12 Inc. virtual schools score under 30 percent in federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress goals, compared to 52 percent scored by public schools. What's more, bus money goes to K12 because, as former Republican state Sen. Gary Schroeder of Moscow told the Idaho Statesman, "K12 actually gets paid transportation costs in Idaho because they argue that since they bring the school to the children they should be paid the same as (ordinary) schools."

Whether your student is being educated in a classroom with a live teacher or through a faceless virtual academy, you as taxpayers are footing the bill. In November, you will have a choice to reject Props 1, 2 and 3. It's time to get rid of the Luna laws and direct those funds back into Idaho schools where they can do the most good.

Anderson is president of the Rexburg Education Association.