BOISE, Idaho (AP) — As Idaho voters decide on a sweeping education overhaul this November, teachers opposing the reforms may find themselves in a bind at the ballot box: By rejecting the changes, they could also be turning down a performance bonus after years of reduced or stagnant salaries.
Idaho introduced merit pay under the reforms approved in 2011 and teachers worked toward those financial incentives last year. But the bonuses won't be paid out until Nov. 15, nine days after the referendum, and state officials say they can't distribute the money if the laws are repealed.
The timeline is prompting outcry from the state's teachers union, which is fighting to overturn the reforms authored by Idaho schools superintendent Tom Luna.
"The state Department (of Education) is holding this money hostage," said Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr. "The teachers earned it, the legislature appropriated it last year and they intended it to be used for teacher compensation."
Luna's office counters that the bonus payout plan follows the law and the only barrier to handing out the money would be the referendum spearheaded by the union.
"It's not fair for them to say we're holding them hostage, they're the ones that put the referendum on the ballot, which is the only reason why these bonuses couldn't be paid," said Luna spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said. "We did not ask for there to be a referendum."
If the laws are voted down, McGrath said, the state won't have the legal authority to distribute the funding.
So let's recap for those outside of Idaho. Tom Luna, Superintendent of Education for Idaho, drafted a plan for education reform in Idaho, which passed the legislature. Among the reforms were loss of tenure for new teachers, merit pay for all teachers, and bonuses for teachers who elect to lead extracurricular activities or go to needy school districts. Oh, and restricted bargaining rights for the unions.
First, they tried to get Luna recalled, with a ballot initiaitive. They got enough signatures to get it on the ballot, but it failed miserably... Basically the only people who voted for it were teachers and their immediate families.
Then they attempted to get the law repealed, which last year failed for lack of signatures (and included a huge scandal where teachers were encouraging 18-year-old students to get involved in the effort). However, partial repeals are referendums on this years ballot. Evidently they had enough time to get the signatures. One of those repeals regards restricted bargaining rights (yeah, like that's gonna pass) and the other regards merit pay.
Yeah, this is going to get interesting... As it is, the number of parents opposed to the reforms wasn't exactly high to begin with. Plus with all of the new educational choices that popped up, including free public virtual high schools, it's not like the kids have exactly been suffering.
In other news, Tom Luna is being floated as a possible pick for Romney's Education Secretary. He's already a member of Romney's Education Policy Advisory Group.
He's evidently also sharp as a tack, that one.
I can hear the handwringing already...
Edited to add: Evidently there's also a third referendum on the ballot that would repeal the requirement for all high school students to take at least 2 online classes (with state-issued laptops and computers no less) in order to graduate. Seriously, what is the union smoking and could it be more blatant in its attempt to save itself?