Luna defends education reform at City Club forum

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- At a crowded City Club luncheon, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said providing laptop computers to every high school student and teacher means equal educational access for everyone.

"No longer will students and teachers have to wait for a computer lab. Every classroom will be a computer lab," Luna told a crowd of almost 500 people at the Grove Hotel in Boise.

Voters will decide in November whether to uphold or repeal the laws passed 18 months ago by the state legislature.

Rep. Brian Cronin, arguing against the Luna education reform at the forum, said technology is critical but he dismissed the laptop program as a cost-saving state "scheme" to replace teachers and absorb their salaries.

"From Soda Springs to Sandpoint, replacing teachers with laptops was wildly unpopular," the Boise Democrat said. "So they just don't say it anymore."

Luna denied that, saying now that all Idaho high schools have high speed Internet, equal access to that broadband is essential.

"These tools are not replacing teachers," Luna said. "They are giving teachers the ability to deal with 21st century learners."

But Cronin insisted the new emphasis on laptops is a "dangerous experiment" that will eliminate teachers and increase class size.

"Students respond to the human touch," he said. "Not a key stroke."

Luna and Cronin also differed on the state's new pay for performance policy for teachers.

Luna says it rewards teachers whose schools do better and is an important change from the way things used to be.

"For too long Idaho teachers were paid the same regardless of skills, education or how well they worked with students," he said.

But Cronin said the merit pay plan is under-funded and insults all hardworking teachers who are now leaving the state in record numbers.

"When teachers are demoralized or discouraged, it's Idaho students who pay the price," he said.

However, Luna says eight out of every 10 teachers will get a bonus.

"The average bonus is $2,000," he said. "But some will get considerably more."

Cronin begged to differ.

"There's no bucket of money to pay for pay for performance," he said. "That's why teachers are skeptical. It's a bait and switch con game."

At the end of their prepared remarks, Luna reached over and put his arm on Cronin as they sat next to each other. Cronin told KBOI 2 News that Luna got into his face and "made him uncomfortable" but Luna said he wasn't angry with Cronin, just that he felt Cronin's public comments were a personal attack, and did not deal with the substance of the education laws.