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In Idaho, Students Come First

Written By onci on Thursday, January 27, 2011 | 11:03 AM

The following is an op-ed submitted by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna:

When legislators came to Boise this year, they faced difficult choices for public schools – cut more or raise taxes.

In every opinion poll and at the ballot box in November, Idahoans made it clear they didn’t like either option. They didn’t want to see further cuts, and they didn’t want a tax increase.

Something has to be done.

Over the past two years, Idaho has had to cut or shift $200 million from public schools. Even based on optimistic revenue growth, it will take the state 10 years to get per-pupil spending back to where it was just two years ago.

That’s a whole generation of students. It’s clear we cannot continue to cut our schools. We can’t chop more school days off the calendar or further reduce instructional time. Nor can we raise taxes on Idahoans who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Students Come First is the solution. It’s a comprehensive plan to change the system to educate more students at a higher level on limited resources.

Under this plan, we can put our K-12 public schools back on firm financial footing.

By spending what we currently have differently, we can restore teacher pay, invest $50 million in technology, raise the bar academically, and implement a way to reward Idaho’s excellent educators. And we can do it all without raising taxes.

How? By increasing the average student-teacher ratio statewide by less than two students over the next five years, we can save the state more than $100 million a year. These savings will go back into the classroom, giving teachers the tools to manage more students and raise academic achievement.

First, the state will create the 21st Century Classroom that isn’t bound by walls, bell schedules, school calendars or geography. Every student will have access to a highly effective teacher, the necessary technology and academic standards comparable with anywhere in the world.

Right now, school is the least technological part of any student’s day. This must change.

The state will invest $6,000 per classroom in technology, expand digital learning, provide dual credit courses, and even provide a laptop computer or another digital device for every high school student.

We will invest in our educators to make sure every student has highly effective teachers and principals every year. The state will restore teacher pay and implement pay-for-performance to reward excellence in the classroom. This will give teachers more control over how they are paid and the opportunity to earn up to $8,000 a year in bonuses for working in hard-to-fill positions, taking on leadership duties, or working in schools that increase academic growth.

We will empower parents to take a more active role by giving them access to current, accurate data on student achievement and financial matters in every district.

Above all, we will ensure Students Come First.

The result: Every student will graduate prepared for postsecondary education or the workplace, without the need for remediation.

If we don’t do this, then what? We cannot continue to cannibalize our public schools, reducing the school calendar and student-teacher contact time.

This is the best way to put our public schools back on firm financial footing and raise student achievement – by spending what we currently have differently.

The electorate demands it. The economy requires it. Our students deserve it.
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