If we had a race for the worst state superintendent in the nation, there would be many contenders. One thinks immediately, for example, of Tony Bennett in Indiana or John White in Louisiana.
By worst, I mean someone who has done his best to destroy public education–which is a sacred trust in the hands of the chief state school officer–and to demoralize the teachers who do the daily work of teaching the kids.
One of the top contenders for that odious distinction is Tom Luna of Idaho. Idaho is a small state and it doesn’t usually get a lot of national attention, but Luna has thrust it into the forefront of the national movement to privatize public education.
He was elected with the help of contributions from technology companies. A brilliant investigative report in the Idaho-Stateman last year documented how he raised campaign contributions from the education technology industry and became their darling.
Not being an original thinker, he called his program “Students Come First,” like Joel Klein’s “Children First” and Michelle Rhee’s “Students First.”
Despite a shrinking budget, he bought a laptop for every student and mandated that every student had to take two online courses in order to graduate. A token of appreciation to all those corporations that helped pay for Mr. Luna’s election.
He led a campaign to eliminate collective bargaining and often refers to union members as “thugs.” His reforms, known as the Luna laws, impose merit pay, which has never worked anywhere. He does whatever he can think of to demoralize the teachers of Idaho.
Is he the worst in the nation? There are many other contenders. It’s a close call.
His proposals are up for a vote this year. We will see if the people of Idaho are ready to outsource their children and public schools to for-profit corporations.
[CORRECTION: LUNA IS NOT UP FOR RE-ELECTION UNTIL 2014; HIS PROPOSALS–KNOWN AS THE “STUDENTS COME FIRST” LAWS or PROPS 1, 2, 3–ARE ON THE BALLOT NOVEMBER 6].
A reader in Idaho sent the following information:
An interesting development in Idaho politics is that not a single Democrat supports the “Students Come First” bills, or Props 1,2,3 as they are now commonly referred to, but nearly every Republican does support them, even though many Republican voters don’t. A recent poll was taken that shows props 1,2,3 losing support among voters, the real question is whether that will lead to more Democratic legislators (85/105 Idaho legislators are Republicans). Another interesting development is that the “Vote yes” folks only raised less than half of what the “Vote no” folks did ($500,000 vs $1.3 million), and I’m not really sure why. I think part of it might be that the state is trying to pay very little for the laptops (I think we’re looking for laptops and maintenance for $309/unit) and no company has taken that, and I also think the state is trying to pay half the normal rate for online courses, so for-profit education has held off on contributions.