Voters head the polls in Ohio today to decide the fate of collective bargaining reforms for government workers. It’s a high-profile referendum on a controversial law that prompted protests similar to the union backlash in Wisconsin earlier this year.
Across the country with much less fanfare, Idaho implemented its own set of landmark reforms. And while the state has lacked the drama playing out in the Midwest, the education changes implemented earlier this year in Idaho are arguably the most sweeping of any adopted in 2011.
The plan, called Students Come First, returns control to local communities. Like other states, it makes changes to collective bargaining for teachers, but goes a step further by eliminating tenure and seniority. It also include a pay-for-performance option to reward teachers. Technology is a major factor in the reform with the goal of giving every student a laptop.
The reforms were spearheaded by Tom Luna, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction. Even though he hasn’t faced the same level of national media scrutiny as his counterparts in Ohio and Wisconsin, Luna has endured his share of personal attacks — vandalism, threats and an attempt to recall him from office.
Like the referendum before Ohio voters today, some in Idaho hope to repeal the reforms next year at the ballot box. The Idaho Education Association already lost a court challenge before a district court judge.
During a recent trip to Washington, we spoke to Luna about the reforms. He discussed the positive impact on students, why they’re necessary and how the state is adapting.