Candidate survey: Respondents support education reform laws


Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, plans to introduce legislation forbidding private association members from being part of the state's retirement system.

Note: This is the first of a three-part series on responses to a survey sent to general election candidates. On Wednesday, the series will look at state health care exchanges, Medicaid expansion, selling insurance across state lines and Department of Health and Welfare spending. Thursday IdahoReporter.com will wrap it up with a look at privatizing liquor, “sin” taxes, online sales tax and the personal property tax.

Propositions 1, 2 and 3

During the 2011 legislative session the Idaho Legislature passed and Gov. Butch Otter signed comprehensive education reforms. The legislation was immediately challenged with those opposed to the reforms seeking the 75,000 signatures to get them on the November ballot for consideration by the state’s voters. The issues will be on the ballot come Nov. 6. Most know them as Props 1, 2 and 3.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation asked several questions regarding the educations reforms and if candidates supported or opposed them. Out of the surveys sent out, 53 were returned. The majority of candidates supported the education reforms. Not all of the 53 chose to comment on answers for each question.

Proposition 1 for ballot purposes reads: “Shall the legislation limiting negotiated agreements between teachers and local school boards and ending the practice of issuing renewable contracts be approved?” Of the 53 who returned the survey, 39 supported the legislation, 10 opposed it and four were undecided.

Republican Paul Romrell, running for a seat in the House of Representatives in District 35, position B, was one of the supporters of the reform.

“I am a firm supporter of education,” said Romrell. “However, our school system cannot continue on the same track forever. I do not support unions. I support working to better the system from how we educate our kids, how we hire and fire our teachers, how well our school boards function to how we allocate and provide the finances for schools. Moving forward is to progress. Progress takes change and improvement.”

Melissa Sue Robinson, a Democrat running for state senator in District 12, was opposed to the reform because she feels it may push good teachers away. “In many states teachers have good representation which makes for a higher quality pool to draw from when hiring our educators. To limit that representation may push good teachers out of Idaho and into the hands of those other states. In other words, one gets what they pay for,” she said.

Cindy Phelps, a Democrat running for seat B in District 8 for the House, was opposed to the legislation because she feels the right for someone to bargain shouldn’t be taken away. “I think the right to bargain should never be taken away from any individual. If a school district has a great teacher, why wouldn’t the district want to keep that teacher around through use of some sort of contract?”

Proposition 2 reads: “Shall the legislation providing teacher performance pay based on state-mandated test scores, student performance, hard-to-fill positions and leadership be approved?”

The support for the legislation was similar to Proposition, with 41 candidates supporting the legislation, nine opposed to it and three were undecided.

Interestingly, Robinson did support Proposition 2. Robinson says she has always supported merit pay, no matter what the profession. “Those that excel deserve to be rewarded,” she said.

Erin Zaleski, a Democrat running for seat B in the House in District 21, was opposed to the reform because of the way it’s calculated. “Pay for performance is a great way to reward teachers. But the way performance pay is calculated in this proposition can leave great teachers from receiving bonuses.”

Rep. Darrell Bolz, a GOPer running in District 10, seat B, was undecided on the reform. “I am still looking at various school districts and the criteria that they are using to pay for performance,” said Bolz.

The final proposition, Proposition 3, asks: “Shall the legislation amending school district funding, requiring provision of computing devices and online courses for high school graduation be approved?”

The results for this question were slightly different, with 40 of the candidates supporting it, 12 opposed and just one was undecided.

Ken De Vries, a Republican running for House seat B in District 5, was very much in support of the reform because of the world we live in. “We live in a technological age and we must prepare our students to meet these new challenges. The Idaho Constitution mandates a general, uniform and thorough education. Students Come First facilitates this.”

But Democrat Ralph Mossman, running for House seat B in District 32, believes taking money from other education budgets is not the way to implement technology in the classroom. “The Idaho Virtual Learning Academy was, and still is, a great example of how getting technology into the classroom can work. It bases its level of support on need. Taking money out of other education budgets to provide computers for students who already have them is a waste of taxpayer dollars and creates a negative impact elsewhere in the education system. Vote No on Prop 3.”

K-12 funding

Another big question legislators face annually is how to fund K-12 public education. Some supporters of restoring the K-12 funding to a pre-recession level say that any cuts to the budget greatly impact student learning in the classroom. Those in favor of not restoring funding levels argue that overhead and programs should be scrutinized to ensure taxpayers are not paying the bill for wasteful programs.

Candidates were asked what the state should do during the next legislative session: greatly decrease public education spending, slightly decrease, keep the level at the same, increase, slightly increase, greatly increase or undecided.

Again, 53 candidates chose to answer this question and the choices were all over the map. Three said they would greatly decrease public education spending, two said slightly decrease, eight said to keep it the same, 13 said to increase, 12 said slightly increase, four said greatly increase and 11 were undecided.

Lee-Mark Ruff, a Republican, running for House seat A in District 16, was in favor of a slight increase in public education funding because teachers have seen salary reductions in recent years.

“It is my hope that the Legislature will be able to restore full-movement (experience and education) instead of only education. Many teachers have seen a reduction in salary and that has caused morale to drop considerably,” said Mark-Ruff.  “Additionally, I believe that it is time that Idaho recognizes the need to provide pre-kindergarten in order to prevent the abuses of the current federally required special education pre-kindergarten programs and catch at risk children that need special education programs to start them down a path of success earlier.”

Republican Steven Harris, running for House seat A in District 21, believes the funding for education should be decreased, at least slightly. Said Harris: “… dramatically slash administration and non-educational social programs. Promote school choice. Privatize.”

Post-secondary funding

Also fitting into the education discussion, but rarely talked about, is the level at which the state should fund public college education. Candidates were asked what the state should do regarding public education spending for colleges and given the same choices for answers as with K-12 funding ranging from greatly decrease to greatly increase.

Again, candidates were all over the board on this one. Five said to greatly decrease spending, six said slightly decrease, 12 said to keep it the same, seven said to increase, five said to slightly increase, four said to greatly increase and 14 were undecided.

Bob Croker, an Independent running for House seat A in District 29, believes funding levels should be increased slightly. “At one point Idaho was a great bargain in higher education. As we look at our bordering states we find at least four universities that now have lower tuition than Idaho. In addition, ISU’s Technical College is by far the most expensive education of its kind anywhere and of that we should be ashamed.”

Republican Brad Bolicek, running for House seat B in District 18, was undecided because he says the issue needs to be studied and looked at before making a decision. “The responsible option is to study programs and overhead to make an educated and informed decision for need and level of efficiency. To blindly choose to increase or decrease higher education spending without careful study and review is irresponsible. I would choose to study and review prior to making a decision.”

Mike Washburn, a Republican running for House seat A in District 19, believes the state should greatly decrease the funding levels for public college education because the government is essentially subsiding it. “Government funding of college level or higher education should be eliminated.  The constant subsidizing of higher education by the government has increased the cost of a college education by over 1,000 percent in real terms over the last 30 years. It’s becoming an unsustainable upward spiral.  Colleges raise tuitions, government pays more, on and on. Up and up.”

Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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The majority of candidates responding to an Idaho Freedom Foundation survey supported the education reforms, but were all over the map when it came to K-12 funding and funding for public colleges., The majority of candidates responding to an Idaho Freedom Foundation survey supported the education reforms, but were all over the map when it came to K-12 funding and funding for public colleges.
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