Idaho Gov. Butch Otter held a signing ceremony Friday with dozens of lawmakers and other officials as he made the third and most wide-ranging part of education reforms law. Almost an hour later, critics of all three plans filed paperwork to start collecting signatures that would let voters decide whether to keep the laws on the books.
Otter signed Senate Bill 1184, which would increase technology in classrooms at the cost of some salaries for teachers and other educational staff. On the day after the legislative session ended, Otter said the plan and similar legislation would start to reform education and produce students ready to start college or a job.
Otter said that signing the legislation isn't the end of the process, and that now the state must put the changes into action.
The implementation of the plan includes creating a technology task force to study how to give laptops to high school students and to look into potential issues with online classes.
The other part of the reform package backed by Otter and state schools chief Tom Luna include creating pay-for-performance bonuses for teachers and increasing school districts' bargaining power with teachers.
Both the House and Senate passed the legislation with only Republicans voting in support. Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said the technology changes, including online classes, allow schools in Oakley to offer a broader array of classes for students.
Critics of the plan also held an event at the Capitol that included filing paperwork with the secretary of state to put a referendum for the changes on the 2012 ballot. Mike Lanza, a freelance writer and parent in Boise, is spearheading the effort with the new political group Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform.“Idahoans made it clear that they do not want to trade teachers for laptops and require online classes,” Lanza said.
Getting a referendum on the ballot would require more than 47,000 signatures from registered voters. Those signatures need to be collected within two months after the end of the legislative session.
“The clock's ticking; it started yesterday,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told Lanza.
Lanza said the forms for collecting signatures will begin to be distributed among supporters. “This is very much a parent-driven effort,” he said. Several Democratic lawmakers were on hand as Lanza dropped off his paperwork, though the party hasn't officially endorsed the effort.
One Republican critic of the legislation, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told IdahoReporter.com he would support the referendum effort, though he hasn't been asked by the supporters. Cameron also said the reform issues will be a big topic during the next legislative session.
The Idaho Education Association (IEA), which represents teachers across the state, is backing the referendum. The IEA will also have a seat on the technology task force. IEA President Sherri Wood said the association will take its seat at the table for the task force.
Critics of the changes to education say that backers passed several trailer bills that could make it more difficult for a referendum. During his news conference, Otter said citizens are entitled to seek a referendum on any legislation, and that lawmakers didn't try to prevent a referendum on the education plan.
Otter also discussed legislation that would declare a state disaster emergency due to Idaho's wolf population. The governor said he's still studying the legal aspects of the plan. “I suspect it'll find a favorable landing on my desk,” Otter said.
The governor also responded to a question about approving legislation that's the attorney general's office has said could be unconstitutional. The wolf legislation, as well as a plan to ban abortions after 20 weeks and the failed effort to nullify federal health care reform, all raised concerns from the attorney general's office.
“I think he has suggested there's a constitutional question (not) whether or not he's said they're outright unconstitutional,” Otter said. He said those issues are ultimately determined by the courts, though the state could be on the hook for legal costs.
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- Butch Otter and Tom Luna at a signing ceremony, Butch Otter and Tom Luna at a signing ceremony