A new political committee called YES! For Idaho Education filed paperwork Wednesday with the secretary of state's office in order to begin a campaign to defend the Students Come First education reform laws that took effect in April 2011.
The laws, championed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, generated substantial controversy and a backlash from the Idaho Education Association, which objects to the laws' restrictions on collective bargaining for public school teachers, merit pay provisions and mandates for the use of new technology that union officials worry will replace some teacher jobs.
Ken Burgess, a lobbyist with Veritas Advisors, LLP, who filed the committee's paperwork, told IdahoReporter.com that he expects to manage the campaign going forward.
"I think Idahoans don't fully appreciate how, on a national level, we really are leading the nation in respect to these education reform movements," Burgess said. "When Idaho implemented these laws, what I have found is that on a national level, school reformers, states, governors and school superintendents who are hoping to accomplish some sort of school reform have looked to Idaho as a national leader."
He pointed out that when Otter and Luna speak to such leaders and groups about education reform efforts, "They are practically folk heroes."
In recent weeks, a group opposed to the reform laws called Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform hired David Williams, who served last year as the deputy campaign manager of a successful Ohio effort to overturn a law restricting collective bargaining for that state's public employees. This mounting campaign to overturn Idaho's Students Come First legislation prompted an organized defense strategy in response.
"State education funding is essentially 50 percent of the Idaho state budget," Burgess said. "That was the impetus, certainly, for the governor to start looking at ways to reduce spending. If we implement our plan properly, and we certainly intend to, Idahoans are going to understand that these reforms are necessary, and they're not going to want to reject them and go back to the old way of doing things."
Burgess touted the educational credentials of the campaign's leaders, who have decades of collective experience at varying levels of educational leadership in Idaho. Co-chairman Milford Terrell has served on the State Board of Education since 2003, in addition to his long career as a Boise businessman. Co-chairman Wendy Horman has been treasurer of the Bonneville School District No. 93 Board of Trustees in Idaho Falls since 2002, is a past president of the Idaho School Boards Association, has served as chairman of the Idaho School Boards Association Foundation Board since 2008 and has been a member of the Students Come First Technology Task Force. Treasurer Mack Shirley, a retiring state legislator representing District 34, spent six years as vice-chairman of the House Education Committee.
"I think the interesting thing we have about these three names is really the educational credibility that each of the three separately bring to the table," Burgess said, adding that "Gov. Otter is going to unveil more detail regarding the rest of the committee membership, and the committee structure and such, sometime next week."
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