Idaho education firestorm sparks attempt at repeal

But to others, Luna is a hero who took on a tough issue and changed a system that was badly broken. They believe Idaho’s public schools, which lost roughly $200 million in funding during the economic downturn and face more cuts next year, are no longer sustainable and commend Luna for restructuring how the state’s scarce education dollars are spent.

“He really stuck his neck out. He’s not the most popular guy in the state by any means. I definitely think he’s courageous,” said Ethan Stroschein, an 18-year-old from American Falls who received death threats after he created a Facebook page in support of Luna’s efforts.

Nationwide, state legislatures have tackled education policy this year and triggered protests from teachers over proposed changes to their collective bargaining rights, and how they are evaluated and paid. But Idaho has made some of the most sweeping changes, according to the head of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C.

“The changes in Idaho haven’t received the attention they ought to,” said director Jack Jennings. “They’re dramatic changes, they’re even drastic.”

A group of parents and teachers who want to dump the education overhaul have met a June deadline to gather enough signatures to put three repeal measures on the November 2012 ballot. More than 72,000 people signed each of three petitions to put the new Idaho laws to referendum votes next year.

They also want to oust Luna through a recall effort in what is considered a longshot because of the large amount of signatures required for a statewide recall.

Jennings is unaware of any other state where critics have mounted a referendum campaign to ditch new education laws, though some legislatures are still in session, he said. In Wisconsin, a legal fight over a new law to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers–including teachers–has moved to the state Supreme Court after a judge struck it down.

As Luna sat at his dining room table after a morning of summer yard work recently, he seemed far from the furor that erupted earlier this year when critics stormed the Idaho Capitol to protest his plan to restrict education union bargaining rights, introduce teacher merit pay, and shift money from salaries to classroom technology.

He points out that for every opponent who flips him off, he can find another who thinks he did the right thing.

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