BOISE -- Gov. C.L. Butch Otter signed a law Thursday to phase out tenure for new teachers and restrict collective bargaining in Idaho.
The Republican governor also signed off on legislation to introduce teacher merit pay. Otter said the two bills, which were fought by the statewide teachers union, have been a long time coming and would improve the ability of public schools to fulfill their mission of educating Idaho's children.
Otter said he remains committed to working with lawmakers on a third piece of a plan authored by public schools chief Tom Luna to overhaul Idaho's education system.
Our work is not done, Otter said in a statement.
Supporters of the law to limit the statewide teachers union contend it will give more power to Idaho's locally elected school boards when it comes to labor relations. But opponents argue it's a mean-spirited move to dismantle the union and gut collective bargaining rights teachers have held for decades. The law allows the union to only negotiate salaries and benefits, not work rules like breaks and other policies.
Hundreds of teachers, students, parents and union activists circled the Idaho Capitol last week in protest after lawmakers finished approval of the two bills. They wore bright red cloth strips over their mouths to symbolize their feelings that teacher concerns had not been heard despite overwhelming public testimony against the education reforms.
Teachers are angry because they feel disrespected, said Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood.
States including Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana have seen even more dramatic protests over anti-union measures.
The Idaho education reforms were unveiled in January and have dominated the 2011 session, triggering teacher and student demonstrations at the Idaho Capitol and across the state. The biggest piece of the plan, which calls for boosting technology in the classroom, remains in the Idaho Senate. It has undergone significant changes amid concerns over provisions in bill that would increase class sizes and force the state to cut about 770 teaching jobs to pay for the education reforms, including the pay-for-performance plan.
Lawmakers plan to introduce the revamped legislation Friday.
The parts of the reform plan that are now law in Idaho will restrict teachers collective bargaining agreements, while also phasing out tenure for new educators and current teachers who have yet to obtain a continuing contract. They will instead be offered one- to two-year contracts following a three-year probationary period.
Teachers with seniority would also no longer be safe when school districts reduce their work force, and Idaho school districts that lose students would no longer hold onto 99 percent of the state funding that came with that student for another year.
Under the pay-for-performance plan, Idaho will award bonuses to teachers who raise student achievement and take on hard-to-fill positions or leadership roles. The merit pay plan carries a $38 million price tag in the 2013 fiscal year, rising to $51.3 million in the 2014 fiscal year.
Lawmakers who opposed the bill called it an unfunded mandate because the funding piece remains in the Senate.
Gov. Otter has always touted his credentials as a fiscal conservative so it begs the question how he can sign a bill that mandates up to $50 million per year in costs without adequate funding during the worst fiscal crisis in the history of Idaho's system of public instruction, said Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello.
Republicans backing the plan, which creates a statutory requirement in the public schools budget, counter that money for education could be rearranged to fund merit pay.