Online learning would be a larger part of students' day under a proposed Idaho schools overhaul.

Thrusting his state into the center of the national debate over education reform, Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna outlined an aggressive overhaul of the state’s education system on Jan. 12 as he called for more educational technology in the classroom and a pay-for-performance plan for educators. He also infuriated the Idaho teachers union by proposing increased class sizes to help pay for the plan.

Luna detailed his proposal for state lawmakers on the House and Senate education committees. The plan, which would eliminate tenure for new teachers and limit contracts to two years, might be difficult for “the adults” in public education to digest, but the reforms are designed to benefit students, Luna said.

The state’s current system, which has lost roughly $200 million in funding during the past two years amid the economic downturn, is no longer sustainable, Luna said.

“Do we continue to cannibalize the system we currently have, or do we change the system?” he said.

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Under his multiyear strategy, which has backing from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, educational technology would receive a boost, and all ninth-grade students would be given laptops they can keep throughout high school. Starting with the 2012-13 school year, high school students in Idaho would be required to take two online courses a year.

Luna also proposes that Idaho implement a pay-for-performance plan for teachers that bases salary on their performance in the classroom, not on their education or seniority.

This pay-for-performance plan was first crafted in 2009 as part of Idaho’s bid for $75 million or more in competitive education grants under the federal government’s Race to the Top program. The plan gives school districts some flexibility in rewarding teachers, allowing measures other than standardized tests.

While the Idaho Education Association (IEA) had some input on the pay-for-performance plan when it was created for the Race to the Top application, other measures under Luna’s overhaul might be harder for the IEA to digest.

The plan would eliminate tenure for new teachers, for instance, and instead offer them two-year rolling contracts.

Also, collective bargaining agreements between teachers and school districts would expire at the end of each fiscal year and would be limited to salaries and benefits under the proposal.

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“I am very concerned about the fact that we want effective teachers and we want them more actively involved in their profession, but yet we’re going take away their ability to discuss at the bargaining table things like parent-teacher conferences, what professional development they need, [and] how students are graded,” said IEA President Sherri Wood. “All of those things are discussed in negotiations.”

The plan also would eliminate provisions that allow Idaho school districts that lose students to hold onto 99 percent of the state funding that came with that student for another year, saving an estimated $5.4 million.

To help pay for ed tech, the plan proposes increasing the students-per-classroom ratio from 18.2 to 19.8 over the next five years, saving about $100 million. The union rejected Luna’s suggestion that educational technology, including electronic student response systems he passed around at the hearing, would help ease the burden of increased class sizes.

“I don’t quite understand the trade-off,” Wood said. “You’re going to give a teacher a ‘clicker,’ and yet you’re going to load more students into their classroom.”

The plan would eliminate about 770 teaching positions over the next five years as more students take online courses and classroom sizes increase.

The state’s education officials say about 1,600 teachers leave the public education system each year for a variety of reasons, including retirement or a new job, and Luna said he believes the state can absorb the 770-position loss through attrition.

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Several lawmakers on the panel lauded Luna for his innovations, with Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde calling the education reform plan “the most comprehensive package I’ve seen in a while” and cautioning that it could take lawmakers some time to sort through all the details.

Other highlights of Luna’s plan:

• If high school students meet all their graduation requirements by their junior year, the state would pay for them to earn college credit while completing their senior year.

• Teachers would be able to receive bonuses for taking on hard-to-fill and leadership positions.

•Parents would have input on teacher evaluations, which also would factor in student achievement growth.

• Idaho colleges and universities could be authorized to operate charter schools.

• The state would publish a fiscal report-card for each school district.

• Salary negotiations between districts and teachers would be held in open public meetings, and the master agreements they sign would be available online.

• Students would have the flexibility to take online courses without permission from their school district.

• A first-year teacher’s starting salary would raise from $29,655 to $30,000.