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.)