BOISE -- Lawmakers sent public schools chief Tom Luna and his plan to overhaul the K-12 education system back to the drawing board for a small rewrite Thursday, after three days of listening to testimony from teachers, administrators, parents, and students.
Supporters and foes of the plan remain deeply divided and the public hearings were, at times, heated over the proposal to restructure how Idaho's scarce education dollars are spent.
Luna unveiled the plan to lawmakers in January calling for Idaho to beef up technology in the classroom and arm high school students with laptops, requiring them to take several online courses before they graduate. More students could earn college credit while they are still in high school and in some cases, the state would pick up the tab.
Idaho ties some teacher pay to merit and award bonuses for taking on hard-to-fill positions and leadership roles, under the plan, and a teacher's starting salary would increase from $29,655 to $30,000.
But the state would also eliminate tenure for new educators and instead offer two-year rolling contracts. Those with seniority would no longer be safe during work force reductions; and collective bargaining agreements would expire at the end of each fiscal year, with negotiations limited to salaries and benefits.
Class sizes would increase slightly to help pay for the reforms, with the state shedding an estimated 770 teaching jobs as classrooms grow and more courses are taught online.
The biggest rewrite to Idaho's public education system in recent memory came first to the Senate Education Committee in the form of two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 1068 and Senate Bill 1069.
The committee, chaired by Sen. John Goedde, was scheduled to vote on the bills after a final day of public testimony on Thursday.
There are enough small corrections needed in S1068 and S1068 that they should not be held for a vote in committee as they are currently written, Goedde said in a letter Thursday, hours before the public hearing was expected to begin.
Luna will bring two revised drafts of the legislation to the committee on Monday and there will be more hearings on the changes, Goedde said.
The state Department of Education has yet to see a list of any proposed changes to the bills, said agency spokeswoman Melissa McGrath.
From what I understand, the Senate Education Committee will finish up public testimony this week and put together its list of proposed changes, if any, in the next couple days, McGrath said.
The Idaho Education Association has condemned parts of the plan that would reduce teaching jobs, increase class sizes and require educators to forgo coveted job security. After it was introduced, the union criticized Luna for hijacking an important debate over funding for Idaho public schools with a plan to radically alter the way Idaho schools do business.
Public schools in Idaho have lost roughly $200 million in funding during the past two years amid the economic downturn.
Luna argues that the current system is not sustainable and contends no other education stakeholders have presented a plan to reform education in Idaho. He has chastised the teachers union for spreading misinformation about the Republican-backed proposal that was introduced with Gov. C.L. Butch Otter's support.
Some 300 parents and their children rallied on the south steps of the Capitol building as lawmakers started public hearings on Luna's plan earlier this week.