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A framework at last for collaboration for education reform

Statesman Editorial board
January 13, 2013
Idaho Statesman

Gov. Butch Otter set the stage for a new-and-improved process for education reform in his State of the State address last week. But there's something that he didn't mention: Tom Luna's name - the person who is supposed to be the guiding light for public education in Idaho.

The governor talked about almost everything related to public schools, including funding and his plans to create a collaborative process to take on education reform. There was no talk from the governor about Luna being any kind of a point man in the discussions.

Politically, the omission was wise given the beating voters gave Nov. 6 to the Luna-backed Students Come First proposals. The superintendent of public instruction, of course, has a seat on the 30-member task force that Otter appointed. But Otter is asking the State Board of Education - not Luna - to facilitate the discussions.

Otter, who burned some of his own political capital with his aggressive support of the three failed propositions, cannot be blamed for wanting a fresh start on education reform. Given the emotion wrapped up in the debate last fall, it's good that he's setting a different tone and asking the Legislature to take a year to work on the issue. His task force has a lot of work to do.

Luna was criticized, and rightly so, for failing to discuss his reform ideas during his 2010 re-election campaign and throwing it in the face of Idahoans soon after securing four more years in office. Education professionals, teachers and the Idaho Education Association - among others - were angry about not having a say in Luna's reform plans passed by the 2011 Legislature. Voters decisively came down on the side of the educators.

Otter isn't repeating the 2011 mistake. The task force he appointed includes teachers, union members, business leaders and educators. More parents would have broadened the panel's perspective, but the framework is in place for the kind of constructive dialogue that people wanted all along.

Otter appropriately outlined the goal. It's to improve "efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability into our education system," he said.

"There was no electoral mandate for the changes we proposed on Nov. 6," he said. "But I also heard no clarion call for the status quo."

Judging by the heavy turnout last November, Idahoans will be watching the task force's process closely. The panel reflects a range of expertise and interests, and reaching a consensus on a reform package will be challenging. But looking at the diversity of the panel, there's reason to be optimistic about the prospects of meaningful education reform.

This collaboration should have occurred two years ago, but there's no sense crying over the past. What counts is what the task force does from here, and it's off to a good start.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment or suggest a topic, e-mail

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