Just over five months ago, Idaho voters rejected the three laws known as Propositions 1, 2, and 3. Now, less than 200 days later, a series of laws limiting school teacher contract rights is back on the books. How did this happen? What does it say about Idaho policymaking, policymakers and politics? More importantly, what will be the short and long term effects of these laws on our education system and the teaching profession?
Teachers are a resilient lot; it’s a hallmark of our profession and a key to long-term success in the classroom. This quality has come in handy the past few years, which have been turbulent with respect to education policy. Even before the November election, we held numerous internal dialogues and debates about how to move forward after the election.
We didn’t fool ourselves into believing that the final vote on the three Propositions would end the discussion on education reform. We knew and were supportive of a continued dialogue about our schools. In fact, during the build up to the November election, we were finalizing our own white paper, Ensuring a World Class Education for Every Idaho Child, outlining our research-based recommendations for reform that we hoped to use in these continued conversations.
Teachers were guardedly optimistic when Gov. Otter convened an education task force to study our education system. We have actively participated in that process. In a perfect world, the task force might have examined all the concepts in the failed propositions, taking the necessary time to analyze, assess, and make recommendations.
We do not live in a perfect world. Even before the legislature convened, we learned there were some who were intent on reintroducing many ideas found in the failed propositions, regardless of the task force process.
Thus, throughout the legislative session we engaged with lawmakers and other stakeholders in conversations about the recycled laws. We came to the table in good faith. Where possible, we supported bills we felt could help educators. For example, we supported a bill requiring contract negotiation meetings to be open and transparent. We also supported a bill allowing existing contracts to be reopened in districts facing financial emergencies. In some cases, we worked to improve legislation that ultimately we couldn’t support, but instead agreed to be neutral on.
On the other hand, there are many bills this year that we strongly opposed — often for reasons that echo our opposition to Propositions 1, 2, 3. Various proposals sought to take away teacher’s voices, severely limit negotiation practices, and make teachers less able to influence the school environment in which they work.
We certainly felt supported by voters who overwhelmingly rejected Propositions 1, 2, 3 — policies that seemed less about “reforming” education or improving student learning and more about attacking teachers and justifying more cuts to public education. Consequently, as we worked through the session, it was also important to us that we not trample the wishes of the hundreds of thousands of voters.
Nevertheless, some of our members and many citizens, who supported the repeal of the 2011 laws, suggested that we should reject anything and everything that resembled those repealed laws. We could have taken that tack — it would have made our legislative agenda rather simple. Instead, we opted for collaboration and dialogue, knowing we wouldn’t get everything we wanted but hoping to make progress on some of the issues that matter most to us.
Now that the legislative session has come to a close, once again almost nothing has been done to address how children learn and what systemic changes we can make to improve outcomes for all kids. There are many things we know work, based on lessons from other states and countries. Instead, we spent months debating stale ideas that won’t impact learning but will continue to erode teacher morale and Idaho’s ability to attract teaching talent.
The people of Idaho spoke clearly last November: reform must be a collaborative and research-driven process that’s led, in part, by educators. There will be several more opportunities for voters to weigh in on these issues. The Governor’s Task Force is traveling around Idaho this month, asking citizens what reforms they believe our schools need. In the months before the 2014 legislative session, an interim committee on education reform will “undertake a complete study of how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 educational system” (HCR 33).
We’ll be on hand to share our ideas about what Idaho should and should not be doing to improve our schools. We urge all Idahoans to make your voices heard. Then, hold policymakers accountable if they continue to turn a deaf ear to the message sent when Propositions 1, 2, 3 were repealed.