Tom Luna Regrets Focus on Vote-Counting in Idaho K-12 Overhaul

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 11, 2013 2 min read
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Too much time spent thinking about legislators, and not enough time about the public, helped derail several significant Idaho education bills that Republican lawmakers approved in 2011 only to see them overturned at the polls, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has said.

There were three key proposals in 2011 that Luna championed. The Republican-controlled legislature passed them, but the voters shot all of them down in 2012. Among the “Luna Laws,” one would have restricted collective bargaining; another would have instituted merit pay; and the third would have mandated more technology in the state’s classrooms. They were major priorities for both Luna and the current GOP Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. But the Idaho Education Association, the state teachers’ union, fought to get enough petition signatures to put the laws on the ballot, and there were some murky campaign twists and turns along the way. (Each law was voted on separately in 2012.)

Luna’s interesting comments come in the Idaho Statesman, where he says that instead of spending the amount of time he did on ensuring that his legislative proposals would get enough votes to pass in the legislature (which is controlled by Republicans), he should have expended more energy and thought more about how people were reacting to his ideas outside the state capital.

“We should have been far more aware of a more broad discussion amongst the general public and not just focus on a strategy that would have legislative success,” Luna told the paper.

It’s an interesting admission by Luna, who isn’t afraid of calling himself a red-meat conservative and is outspoken on controversial topics—he’s a staunch, highly visible defender of the Common Core State Standards in a place where there’s been some visible opposition. He survived a recall attempt in 2011 triggered by those legislative efforts, but the defeat of the Luna Laws counted as a major victory for state teachers’ unions in 2012, alongside Glenda Ritz’s victory over Tony Bennett in the Indiana superintendent’s race. Those two results show that state superintendents who enjoy early success and national prominence aren’t guaranteed everything, or anything.

After seeing the laws get beaten at the polls, Otter convened a task force last December to outline the state’s educational goals and strategies. That task force released its recommendations for Idaho education last month, and they were subsequently endorsed by Otter. It’s not as if Luna, who serves on the task force along with various K-12 advocacy group representatives and others, has washed his hands of his 2011 proposals—two of the recommendations deal with providing more classroom technology and better Internet access. And it reiterates the state’s support for common core. (More information on the task force’s work can be found on its main website.)

The subsequent issue will be how those proposals are turned into legislation and put through the sausage machine. How exactly will Luna change his political approach next year? Or does the task force represent Luna’s main effort to listen more closely to the public?

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.