BOISE -- A plan to reform Idaho's public education system faces more changes in the state Legislature, where the sweeping overhaul has so far dominated the 2011 session.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said Tuesday lawmakers are working to address concerns over public schools chief Tom Luna's plan to boost technology in the classroom and require students to take online courses while increasing class sizes and cutting about 770 teaching jobs.
There are still some genuine concerns that I believe make ultimate passage of the complete package more difficult and that's what we're trying to work on, said Davis, R-Idaho Falls, at a legislative reception sponsored by the Idaho Press Club.
The legislation was already been reworked in the Senate Education Committee amid opposition from parents, teachers and some lawmakers. Luna cut the online course requirements in half and made other changes. He also clarified schools don't have to increase classroom sizes, they could lower teacher pay instead to help pay for the reforms.
The Republican-backed legislation cleared the committee and was sent to the Senate floor last week amid opposition from the state teachers union and other groups. More than 1,000 teachers, parents and students rallied in front of the Idaho Capitol on Monday in their fight to beat back the proposed overhaul.
Republicans in the Idaho Senate held a caucus on the education reforms Tuesday and are considering a variety of options, which include sending the legislation back to the Senate Education Committee, making changes and reintroducing the legislation, or amending the legislation in the Senate, Davis said.
One of the things that we're asking our caucus members to do is to give us some feedback about what are the things that are in the bill that are unduly problematic, Davis said. We are trying to find the changes that we believe are necessary in order to secure passage of the legislation.
Luna contends the current system, which has lost roughly $200 million in funding during the past two years amid the economic downturn, is no longer sustainable. He unveiled his multiyear strategy to revamp public schools and raise student achievement in January with backing from Gov. C.L. Butch Otter.
The plan, along with expanding online courses and arming high school students with laptops, would also introduce merit pay and eliminate tenure for new teachers.
The furor over the proposed education reforms erupted last week, when Luna said he woke up to find vandals had spray-painted his truck and slashed two of its tires. Luna was also heckled after a live newscast in a downtown Boise coffee shop and days earlier, said he filed a police report after an angry teacher went to his mother's house.
Opponents of the plan have railed against increased class sizes and the job cuts. A large crowd gathered in front of the Idaho Capitol on Monday chanting Kill the Bills! while waving signs that read Save Our Teachers and Stop Luna! Other rallies were held across the state.
The Idaho Education Association touted the protests as proof of widespread opposition to Luna's proposed reforms.
Republican leaders are now trying to find the changes necessary to secure passage of the legislation in the Idaho Senate, which has served as an initial battleground for the proposal.
Whenever you have legislation that makes a significant amount of change there's going to be some fear and some anxiety. Frankly, I think all legislators have had some serious questions about the legislation, Davis said. But each time legislators begin to ask questions and do the critical thinking, often times, the answer is really in the bill, not in the hyperbole.