A law that offers bonus pay to high-achieving teachers.
A law that offers the opportunity for students to take online courses, and earn college credit while in high school.
And a law that requires local school districts to be transparent with how they spend taxpayers’ money and negotiate union contracts.
Idaho’s 2011 Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter thought they were good ideas. So good that they called them the Students Come First laws.
But Idaho’s voters thought otherwise.
And on the same day that Propositions 1, 2 and 3 were rejected at the polls, similar education reform measures were overturned in South Dakota and Indiana.
Voters in Georgia and Washington, however, said “yes” to education reform.
“We can continue to do what we have been doing for 30 years and get the same results,” education reformer Hugh Hallman told IdahoReporter.com. Hallman is an attorney, a former mayor of Tempe, Ariz., and the headmaster of Tempe Preparatory Academy, the state’s highest academically performing public school with open enrollment.
Hallman has been following education reform efforts in both Idaho and in Indiana, where the state superintendent of schools had advanced reform initiatives similar to those championed by Otter and Idaho’s superintendent of K-12 education, Tom Luna.
On the same night that Idahoans rejected the Students Come First laws, Indiana residents voted their state superintendent out of office. He had engendered a statewide backlash to his reform policies from teachers, school board members and teacher unions. He was defeated at the polls by a school librarian recruited to run against him.
Hallman insists that the types of reforms that Idaho and Indiana have enacted are necessary. “The only people who benefit from the status quo are teachers’ unions, as compared to the teachers who are now held hostage to those unions, and administrators who are overpaid to achieve mediocrity,” he said.
He also expressed regret that, similar to the situation in Idaho, voters in South Dakota rejected reform efforts to provide bonus pay to teachers, end teacher tenure and enhance teacher recruitment efforts.
But amid the defeat of the three states’ education reform measures, a different type of education reform met with approval elsewhere. Voters in both Georgia and Washington approved ballot initiatives that sought to allow organizations other than local school districts to operate charter schools in their respective states.
While Washington’s amendment passed with a narrow 2.5 percent voter margin, Georgia’s initiative actually amends the state constitution to allow multiple “charter school authorizers” in the state, and passed by nearly a 20 percent margin.
“This is a significant development,” Jeff Reed told IdahoReporter.com. Reed, a spokesperson for the nationwide Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, noted that the organization doesn’t comment on the types of educational policy issues that that were on the ballot in Idaho, South Dakota and Indiana.
Yet Reed expressed enthusiasm for the expansion of charter schools in Washington and Georgia. “The fact that school choice would be supported in both a very ‘Red State’ like Georgia and a very ‘Blue State’ like Washington tells us that educational choice is a nonpartisan issue. It really is about putting students and their parents first, and not about political affiliations.”
Despite the drubbing at the polls, Hallman rejects the idea that Idaho’s reform efforts tried to accomplish too much, too fast. “Those who want to move more slowly to achieve change in a clearly broken system are consigning another generation of students to reduced opportunities for their lifetimes,” he said. “That's inexcusable.”