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Idaho voters to decide fate of education overhaul

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A group seeking to repeal Idaho's new education laws, including one stripping teachers of most collective bargaining rights, has enough signatures to place the measures before voters, state election officials said on Tuesday.

Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform needed the signatures of more than 47,000 Idaho voters for each of the three laws that made up an overhaul of education recently approved by Idaho's Republican leaders.

The Idaho Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday certified the signatures of 74,000 voters for each of the measures, which will be placed on the November 2012 ballot.

Backed by Republican Governor Butch Otter and Tom Luna, the state's elected schools chief, the GOP-dominated legislature this year passed the overhaul of public education despite statewide protests by the teachers union and some parents and students.

The overhaul was spelled out in a package of three laws, including one that ended tenure and removed from teacher contract negotiations issues like class size and workload.

Another tied pay raises and bonuses for educators to factors like student performance instead of seniority.

A third required high schools to equip students with mobile computing devices, forcing many districts to shift funds from teacher pay to technology.

Luna said in a written statement that the referendums threaten public education in Idaho, adding: "Repealing these laws would mean a return to status quo."

Luna said he was confident a majority of Idaho residents supported the overhaul.

Michael Lanza, head of the parent-led group pushing for the repeal, said the number of Idaho voters who signed petitions speaks for itself.

"The fact that we far surpassed our goals is a powerful statement about public dissatisfaction," he said.

Idaho was one of several states this year where Republican lawmakers sought to curtail the labor rights of school teachers and other unionized public employees.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

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