State-level collective bargaining reform: Idaho's success came without the press

Allah warned us yesterday that Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s collective bargaining bill appears to be headed for defeat today — but if you’d rather not start drinking early tonight, dwell on this instead. In Idaho, with far less fanfare, state leaders have successfully implemented a series of important reforms. Robert Bluey and Brandon Stewart report:

The plan, called Students Come First, returns control to local communities. Like other states, it makes changes to collective bargaining for teachers, but goes a step further by eliminating tenure and seniority. It also include[s] a pay-for-performance option to reward teachers. Technology is a major factor in the reform with the goal of giving every student a laptop.

Just as collective bargaining reforms help to keep local and state government costs low, the elimination of tenure and seniority — at least at the elementary and secondary school levels, at which few teachers are also researchers — save school districts valuable dollars — dollars that can go toward useful equipment or toward rewarding hard-working teachers, however long they’ve worked at the school.

That — nor the lack of press — doesn’t mean Idaho’s reforms have been completely popular, though:

The reforms were spearheaded by Tom Luna, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction. Even though he hasn’t faced the same level of national media scrutiny as his counterparts in Ohio and Wisconsin, Luna has endured his share of personal attacks — vandalism, threats and an attempt to recall him from office.

Like the referendum before Ohio voters today, some in Idaho hope to repeal the reforms next year at the ballot box. The Idaho Education Association already lost a court challenge before a district court judge.

Still, the momentum of opponents in Idaho hasn’t been such to derail the reforms, giving the new program a chance to prove itself. And so far, the program has had a positive impact, Luna says. As in Wisconsin, any success story to come out of Idaho will just reinforce Luna’s vision and swell support for the measures.

And, in the end, the bottom line is still the bottom line. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say — and state leaders have “invented” these common-sense reforms because they’ve had to cut back somewhere. In other words, cash considerations are what have driven these reforms in Ohio, Wisconsin and Idaho alike.

“If we want to do anything more — more technology, more professional development, pay for performance, all these things we’ve done with Students Come First — it takes tens of millions of more dollars on top of that,” Luna explained to Bluey in a video. “When the wheels fell off the economy a few years ago and as we’ve seen this play out into what is turning out to be a long-term recession, we’re not going to have more money for education. We have to have a system that can educate more students at a higher level with limited resources. The current system can’t do that. We weren’t going to wait for that to happen in Idaho, so we chose to act rather than be acted upon.”

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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022