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Luna: Opposition to for-profit education providers is like Occupy Wall Street (video)

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Note: This is part 1 of a five-installment series of interviews with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. The series runs Monday-Friday, Dec. 12-16.

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna believes that opponents of having for-profit companies deliver online school courses in Idaho have a mentality not unlike protestors in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Luna also said that those worried about for-profit education companies providing online school courses might be anti-capitalist in nature. The superintendent was interviewed last week by

“This undertone that somehow because for-profit companies are going to want to compete for educations dollars is the end of public education as we know it, that is an Occupy Wall Street argument that we see going on all across the country,” Luna said, “where there’s this attack on capitalism and an attack on profits.”

Luna has sometimes found himself a bit on the defensive since the Legislature approved his education reform plans in the 2011 legislative session. One criticism accuses him of privatizing education to funnel dollars to multi-million dollar corporations. His plan has been the subject of several national news articles, including one in The Nation, a progressive news and opinion outlet, which criticized states for the push to privatize education.

“The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning – a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers,” wrote The Nation writer Lee Fang on Nov. 16.

But Luna doesn’t believe the school sector has been free of for-profit companies for a very long time. “The fact is in public education, there have been companies, private companies, that have been making profits on public education long before I was ever state superintendent,” Luna explained. “These are all for-profit companies that have been dealing with K-12 public schools for decades and they make a profit.”

The Republican superintendent, in his second term in the post, says that companies selling everything from books to buses have actually bettered public schools. “It’s been going on for decades and it hasn’t hurt our public education system. In fact, I think it’s made it better,” Luna explained. “We have better curriculum today because for-profit companies are involved in developing it and providing it to our districts.”

Luna says that the marketplace for education products and services will bring costs down and improve efficiency if politicians will allow it to do so.

“You better have the best product and the most cost-efficient product or you’re not going to get business from the local school district,” Luna explained. “That, in and of itself, is going to drive price down and raise quality.”

The education task force created by Luna’s reform package is working to develop a list of approved online course providers. Officials expect to put out request for bids sometime in March or April next year.

Coming Tuesday: Luna discusses what he might have done differently in presenting his education reform package. Video for the series by Mitch Coffman,

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Luna says that for-profit companies are already improving public schools, Luna says that for-profit companies are already improving public schools
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  1. Rick Fletcher

    Mr. Luna,

    I’m happy to learn you are a proud capitalist. So am I. Now that we’ve shared a bond, I’ll point out that it has nothing to do with the argument about outsourcing education. Education is provided by the state – it’s one of the reasons we have a state government. The argument for online learning you have made suggests that students in Idaho deserve the best education possible but when you go to a private company to get it, you are admitting the public system in Idaho cannot provide it.

    In some areas, I agree. Idaho K-12 has weak spots that need attention. Why not use resources to provide that attention rather than allowing a private company to divert some of the money into profit for those who provide the capital? Capitalism works best when a service is offered that cannot be provided elsewhere, or a service that can be offered better. Why not be entrepreneurial within state government and increase the starting salary for teachers so Idaho can be competitive with our neighboring states? It is this low starting wage that keeps those talented and well-trained in science and math from choosing a teaching position in Idaho.

    Who do you think the private company goes to in order to provide the online course in science and math? That company goes to a well-trained science educator living in another state because he or she can make a better living in that location. Idaho leadership should be using the profit margin to boost the wage of the young technically trained teacher in Idaho. We should be improving what we already provide rather than allowing others to skim off a profit and to pay a better wage to others living elsewhere.

    Keep the limited resources in Idaho. Invest in our teachers and attract a more diverse group of educators. Students Come First? I say “Spend the resources here, first.”

  2. Danielle Ahrens

    The Public Education sector and the private sector have been doing business for years. School lunch programs, athletic equipment, classroom supplies etc. Competition in all areas of public education assures a better quality of products for our students and teachers use.

  3. Tyler

    Spot On Tom!
    The more involvement by the private sector the better. It brainlessly obvious that when companies compete the prices go down and the quality goes up.. It’s basic economics no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.

    Much better then letting the state control everything!

  4. hater

    What a jackass. People arnt afraid of companies making money, we are afraid however, that the education that a faceless screen gives is not as meaningful as the face to face learning we all grew up with. Luna wake up!

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  6. Jack Carroll

    Why are you allowing him to amplify an obfuscated argument for outsourcing [needless] online K-12 education? The mixed message is a slap in the face to for-profit schools that have invested in our community with brick and mortar, employment opportunities, and online options; not to mention he displays a total misunderstanding of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

  7. L E Wesche

    Luna doesn’t get it. The real issue is ‘putting students’ needs first’ and nothing he has proposed yet is supported by evidence that learning is improved. He spouts faulty, distorted research, parrots reactionary rhetoric, deals from a base of ignorance, serves special interests at the expense of Idaho’s students. But what can one expect from a political hack who has no idea what really happens in the classroom, what teachers really do, or how learning really occurs.

  8. J Sola

    What troubles me is the fact that he received a very large campaign contribution from a company that sells educational programs to the State. And now has done so. If not unethical, it has the appearance of same and I would expect an elected official to avoid that appearance. He didn’t and is now suspect in the eyes of many.

  9. Rick

    Mr. Luna, please watch this-

    I don’t even know where to start, I will not even try to cover everything. One thing that really jumped out at me though, it is government safety requirements that make buses safer, not capitalism.

    Textbooks are a joke right now, there are free websites available that provide better education than the textbooks that are in schools. Also, with the right teacher in front of the students, this information can be gathered in a way that the students will better understand the information and want to learn more about it instead of from the biased, white-washed textbooks that the Texas school board approved. These websites- free. Information has nothing to do with capitalism and neither does education. There is a difference in providing supplies (a product that must be paid for and can be held, such as food for the lunches) and knowledge. Do not mix the two together Tom.

  10. Vern

    How quickly we forget! Not everything that the private sector lays is a golden egg. The banks and insurance companies were given a lot of market freedom and we(the taxpayers) ended up bailing them out to the tune of hundreds of billions. Face it, some managers are not free market economists either and are just in it for the money. Quality does not always go up. Price does not always go down. “There ain’t no free lunch.”