Idaho governor signs education overhaul into law

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) – Idaho’s governor on Friday signed into law the final piece of a controversial Republican overhaul of education in the state, as teachers and their allies mobilized to fight the measures.

The bill signed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican, forces districts to equip high schools with mobile computing devices and potentially shifts funds from teacher pay to technology.

It also could lead to the layoffs of some teachers and certain positions going unfilled, officials said.

“By spending what we currently have differently, we will reform our public education system to invest in Idaho’s great teachers, create the 21st century classroom and put our students first,” Tom Luna, the state’s schools chief, who crafted the sweeping education overhaul, said in a statement.

The measure was the last of three Republican-backed education bills that Otter has signed into law in recent weeks.

The other two bills ended tenure for new teachers, instituted merit pay and removed discussions of workload and class size from contract negotiations for the 12,000 teachers represented by the Idaho Education Association.

Idaho is one of several U.S. states in which public sector workers are currently battling with Republican leaders over their drive to curb public employee unions.

Attention has focused on a high-profile battle in Wisconsin over a law limiting public sector unions. Proposals to limit collective bargaining are also advancing in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, and bills targeting teachers unions are under consideration in Indiana and Tennessee.

“These are troubling times; all across the nation, political leaders have decided teachers are the enemies,” said Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association.

Opponents of the state’s education measures are seeking to get the laws overturned. They filed their latest petition on Friday in a bid to get opposition to the latest bill as a referendum before voters.

The group has less than two months to gather more than 47,000 registered Idaho voters’ signatures, in order to get the measure on the ballots for the 2012 general election.

Teachers and others opposed to the bills have led protest rallies and student walkouts across the state, and have also launched a drive to recall Luna, who in November won 60 percent of the vote to claim a second term as superintendent of public instruction.

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Jerry Norton)

Idaho governor signs education overhaul into law