Our editorial board spent 90 minutes this morning interviewing state schools superintendent Tom Luna about his sweeping school reform plan, Students Come First.
Here's a link to the Luna interview, in full.
A few higlights:
• Luna says this plan is essential now, after $200 million in budget cuts over the past two years, because it could take a decade for K-12 funding to rebound to its pre-recession level. "The new normal is what we're experiencing now."
• During the fall election, Luna said he might seek additional money from the state endowment reserves — or push for new money from repealing sales tax exemptions, taxing Internet sales or hiring new auditors. That seems a lower priority now, as Luna is touting a plan that would reform education without new taxes. "I think people made it very clear on Nov. 2 that they do not want their taxes raised."
• He acknowledged that the biggest question about his plan centers on increasing class sizes in the upper grades. "I think that's a fair debate." But the plan to increase class sizes also allows the state to eliminate some 770 teaching jobs over two years — which enables the state to invest in new technology that should help teachers accommodate larger classes.
Comparing Idaho's performance with neighboring states — some with smaller class sizes, and one, Utah, with larger class sizes — Luna says he sees no correlation between class size and student performance.
• Luna believes attrition should cover most of the teacher cuts. Generally, over the course of two years, about 3,200 teachers retire, move or leave the profession.
• His plan to provide students with laptops would cost roughly $7 million a year for computer purchases, and about $6 million for support and maintenance, which a private contractor would handle. Students would be responsible for the condition of the laptops while in school, but would be able to keep them upon graduation.
• Luna defended his plan to eliminate tenure for new teachers and make them work on two-year contracts similar to principals' contracts. He says it is important to reward good teachers and identify poor teachers, and the current system makes that difficult.
Existing tenure agreements would be grandfathered, and Luna said he rejected the notion of eliminating tenure entirely. "That wasn't the most productive path to take."
• Regarding the prospects for passing his sweeping reform, introduced Wednesday, "We're optimistic about the response we've gotten so far, but I'm not naïve." Luna believes the depths of the state's budget crisis, and a projected $340 million shortfall in 2011-12, may prompt lawmakers to try a dramatically different approach to education.
Coming Sunday: Our editorial board weighs in on Luna's proposal, and the president of the Idaho Education Association reacts to the plan.