BOISE -- It was a packed house Fridayas teachers, parents, superintendents, and members of the community showed up to voice their concerns or approval for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's comprehensive plan for education reform.
It was also a historic day at the Statehouse as the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee took public comment for the first time ever.
It was standing room only as people crowded in to give their 3-minute testimonies on Luna's plan to overhaul K-12 education in Idaho.
Hansen has been hit hard by the cuts to education, said teacher Lauren Peters. Unlike many districts, we were unable to pass our override levy. So our children lost out. Our drama and music classes are entirely gone.
We don't have the money, said Danielle Aarons, a mother. We have to make cuts. It's not fun, it's hard. But at home, in our budgets, this is what we have to do. It's simple math.
The first major point of Luna's plan includes merit pay for teachers and doing away with their tenure.
Currently, there is no accountability system where districts, schools, or teachers are recognized or rewarded for top performance, or corrected when performance is poor, said Colby Gull, Superintendent of Challis schools.
Merit pay is based on sub-standard standardized tests, said Lucinda Mobius, an Idaho teacher. The testing system is flawed on many levels, and basing teachers' pay on this flawed system is not only unrealistic, but it's unconscionable.
The plan also calls for an increase of about two students per class, which will mean the elimination of some teaching jobs.
I can't imagine any parent that would say raising student-teacher ratios qualifies as putting students first, said Karen Mahoney, a mother. Parents don't want their children to receive less attention.
However, Luna believes the money saved on fewer teachers will allow for the purchase of laptops for every high school freshman, and the requirement for high school studentsto take two online classes.
Requiring online classes means more jobs lost, less tax revenue, said Kent Black, Idaho father. We all know what happens when we start out sourcing jobs. Modern technology is great, but it cannot replace a teacher working side-by-side with our children.
Online education does work, said Stephen Adams, educator. The U.S. Department of Education's meta-analysis of 51 reputable studies showed that on average students in online learning did not only do as well but they did better than students in traditional settings.
I think you've got a singular opportunity to pay teachers better, inject innovation in the public education system, ultimately, and most importantly ... improve the quality of public education in Idaho, said Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. And I'd hope you'd support the superintendent's proposal.
Megan Ridley, a teacher, said, Please ask yourself this question... Could it possibly be that the thousands of educators across the state are wrong about the needs of the system they've studied for, worked in, and dedicated their professional lives to? I think not.
While close to 100 people gave testimony, an estimated 300 people showed up in all.
So much, that two other committee rooms were used for the overflow of people.
Also, the Idaho Education Association announced Friday afternoon that it has dropped its lawsuit again the Idaho State Tax Commission.
The IEA says the resignation of former Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow resolves one of the issues that led to the lawsuit.
The union's lawsuit was also pressing for reform at the commission.
The IEA now says it believes the governor and lawmakers will make the necessary changes during this legislative session.