Luna: Idaho not ready for pre-K pilot

Some preschoolers don’t come to kindergarten prepared to learn, state superintendent Tom Luna said, and Idaho “would be remiss to ignore that.”

Luna Andrus center

State superintendent Tom Luna

Still, Luna said he doesn’t support a pre-K pilot bill, unveiled more than a month ago by Boise Democratic Rep. Hy Kloc.

“I don’t think we’re ready to do even what he’s suggesting all over the state,” Luna said Tuesday afternoon.

The pre-K issue came up during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session at a forum sponsored by Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public Policy. And Luna conceded that he has “learned a lot” about the issue in his seven years in office.

Luna says he believes preschoolers are best taught at home — a sentiment shared by many conservatives in the Legislature. But some students aren’t adequately taught at home, he said.

The pre-K bill — co-sponsored by Rexburg Republican Rep. Douglas Hancey — would set up five pilot programs across the state. The three-year pilots would receive about $600,000 in state money over three years, but 55 percent of the funding would come from private sources.

The prospects for the pilot bill appear grim. House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt hasn’t scheduled even a preliminary hearing to formally introduce the bill. And with perhaps little more than a month to go in the 2014 session, the bill seems unlikely to navigate the legislative process.

This week, Kloc told Idaho Education News that DeMordaunt told him his pre-K bill will get an introductory hearing this session, but Kloc was still awaiting word on when.

Part of Luna’s unease with the bill relates to process, and attempting to launch a statewide initiative in small increments. “I’ve never been a fan of pilots.”

And Luna harbors the same concerns about a pilot program on one of his top priorities: classroom technology. The state is launching a $3 million pilot program in 11 schools across the state, and while the pilots are yielding results, Luna would prefer a bigger program. “The pace is far too slow and you create haves and have-nots.”

(Students from three of the tech pilot schools were at the Statehouse today; here’s the rundown.)

The outgoing Luna fielded questions from supporters and detractors alike. One questioner lampooned Luna for his promotion of classroom technology — saying Idahoans have long since made technology an everyday staple, and Luna and other political officials are hopelessly behind the curve. But another questioner decried the defeat of Luna’s “Students Come First” laws, including a law that would have equipped every high school student with a laptop, and asked Luna to reflect on the 2012 ballot loss.

Luna attributed the loss to a $4 million opposition campaign, funded largely by out-of-state sources. “And the fact that you called them the Luna Laws and not Students Come First shows you how effective their campaign was.”

(Listen: The Andrus Center uploads podcasts of its speakers; check here for the links.)

  • Adam Collins

    Tom Luna–failing Idaho at every opportunity and touting the tired, old right-wing Republican party line of promoting antiquated technology over effective teaching. No support of teachers. No support of students. No support of the public education system. The end of Tom Luna’s failed tenure as the Superintendent of Public Education cannot come soon enough.

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    Speaking of the defeat of the Students Come First laws, “Luna attributed the loss to a $4 million opposition campaign, funded largely by out-of-state sources.”

    Seriously, Mr. Luna? You really want to take a trip down that particularl Memory Lane?

    $200,000 from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. $50,000 from the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. $25,000 from Jackson, WY, billionaire Foster Friess. $10,000 from Club for Growth founder John D. Bryan of Oswego, OR. $5,000 from Frank E. Baxter, of Los Angeles, ambassador to Uruguay under President George W. Bush. $5,000 from John J. Fisher, of San Francisco, heir to the Gap stores fortune and co-owner of the Oakland A’s. $5000 from hedge-fund 13D Research LLC in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, $5,000.

    And that’s just a handful of the out-of-state donors to Education Voters of Idaho, the faux-grassroots organization forced to reveal its donors by a law suit filed by the Idaho Secretary of State. Rather than the “voice of Idaho parents” it claimed to be, EVI turned out to primarily be corporations, hedge funds, venture capitalists, and billionaire social engineers.

    Closer to home, $250,000 from Joe Scott, chairman of the board of the Albertson Foundation. $10,000 from Intermountain Gas Co and $10,000 from Clear Springs Foods of Buhl. Let’s not forget, as well, over $1 million ponied up by Frank VanderSloot.

  • John McFarlane

    I can understand Superintendent Luna’s hesitancy toward pilot programs, but find it frustrating that he doesn’t think we are ready. In my district, we have been running a successful universal preschool program for 14 years – and have a waiting list again this year. Few would deny that young children are best taught at home, but in families where both parents have to work, that is not an option. This is particularly true in rural districts such as mine where parents often have to take more than one job to make ends meet. Add to that the fact that the more remote areas of the state lack the cultural resources that our more urban counterparts can use to enrich the lives of their children, and it is easy to see why preschool has been a great equalizer for our students and their families. Students who complete our preschool program have improved problem solving skills, have more socially appropriate behaviors and are more ready for kindergarten, particularly in regards to literacy and numeracy. In addition, we have seen how this early success carries through their entire school career as they are more likely to take advanced courses and attend college at a higher percentage than their non-preschool peers.
    A voluntary pilot program with little cost to the state seems like a small price to pay to generate Idaho data as to the efficacy of pre-K programs. In a predominantly rural state, these programs could go a long way toward addressing the inherent inequities that exist in terms of educational opportunities for our rural students.
    John McFarlane
    Basin 72
    Idaho City

  • Lisa Dawley

    Rather than legislating on what we believe is best for children, I’d like to see a review and discussion of what we know from a research basis.