I'm trying to understand the ideal school in the mind of Tom Luna, Butch Otter, John Goedde or Bob Nonini. These men are the four most powerful education policy makers in the state of Idaho, none have ever been public school teachers and I'm pretty sure that at least four of them don't even believe in traditional public schools. But what they believe we should have instead of our current system of free public education mystifies me.
Tom Luna has advocated for vouchers so that more kids can attend private schools. He must feel private schools do a good job. I've taught in private schools and public schools. I can tell you a key difference. Some of the best private schools in the state tend to have far smaller class sizes and more money for field trips and travel to ensure kids get hands-on experience so that they can finally figure out how all those words in their text books apply to the real world. Yet here we are this year with proposals that specifically cut field trips out of public school budgets and slash funding so far that many districts, already struggling, will have no choice but to lay teachers off and increase class sizes just to keep the lights on and the buses running.
This morning we met in the attic again before JFAC. The staff passed around color coded packets of paper representing three different proposals for funding public schools. There was the depressing-enough pink proposal from Democrats Wendy Jaquet and Shirley Ringo, who tried to do as little damage as possible given the budget situation. Then there was the "wisteria" purple proposal which tried to make a 5% personnel cost reduction for schools on top of stealing an extra $20 million in state dollars to use for other projects besides education. A yellow (code name "daisy") packet was supposed to represent the compromise which in itself was a grim mimic of Tom Luna's budget proposals including a two year phase out of early retirement and a massive cut in transportation for Boise schools.
There was no winning with this budget and this set of motions. But the votes fell entirely on party lines. Republicans had made a back room deal to actually put forward only one set of motions, including stealing the extra $20 million from schools to use on other projects, and failing to challenge Governor Otter on the $44 million in discretionary stimulus funds he wants to spend on roads and sewers. When the 4 to 16 votes were all called, it was clear that our current education leaders have a very sinister plan for our schools.
John Goedde has been recorded as saying, in essence, that public schools have failed. Bob Nonini has put forward some of the most anti-teacher, anti-public school legislation our state has seen. Butch Otter is sitting on $44 million in stimulus he could use to keep schools from laying off teachers and dooming kids to classrooms stuffed to the gills, frustrated and clamoring for help from single exhausted teacher. But he won't.
If there were ever an argument for saying that Republicans are not fit to lead our state on education, this year is it. After a decade of living so close to the bone that there is nothing left to cut, these cuts we are making this year could really leave a generation forever set back in its progress toward learning, its skills and enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge, its access to teachers who value what they do for work and, for decades, have given everything they've got to make sure kids learn in spite of the condition of our schools. This year, with the incredibly ugly set of priorities our four Republican education leaders have displayed, I can only believe they hope to finally once and for all break our public schools.