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Bedke finds silver lining in repeal of 'Luna laws'

Dan Popkey
April 10, 2013
Idaho Statesman

Though he was among the leading backers of the Students Come First laws, Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke says voter rejection of the package in November might result in better policy.

"I hate to say this, but it might have been - heavy on the might - might have been a blessing in disguise that those propositions went down," Bedke told me as the Legislature finished up last week. "Because I think we'll have a better outcome."

He's counting on a governor's task force and an interim legislative committee to bring broad buy-in on robust reforms in the 2014 session.

"I think we've been sensitive to the defeat of the propositions and created a clear path forward," said Bedke, R-Oakley. "We'll have a better handle on what technology in the schools looks like and whatever differential pay looks like."

Bedke said criticism of the 2013 Legislature's revival of some anti-union aspects of the reforms has been overwrought. With Democrats and the teachers union objecting, lawmakers re-enacted four significant measures from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's Proposition 1, which was rejected by 57 percent of voters in November.

Passed at the instigation of the Idaho School Boards Association, the bills restore board authority to cut teacher pay without declaring a financial emergency; eliminate ongoing "evergreen" contract provisions; require 50 percent teacher membership to qualify a union to collectively bargain; and eliminate an early retirement program.

Bedke noted that the "evergreen" law will sunset next year, allowing legislators to reconsider. He also said the wide reach of the interim committee will put everything on the table. The panel's charge, he said, is to complete a study of "how to improve and strengthen Idaho's K-12 educational system and all matters relating thereto."

At the close of his first session as speaker, it's important to Bedke that the minority feels included. A political ecumenicalist, he seeks the best policy for all Idahoans, even Democrats.

"I am the manager of the system now and in my pensive moments I have to take my hat off to those that have come before, because they created a system that'll work if we just let it," Bedke said. "If we try to shortcut or shortchange the system, that's when problems start, and that's where the hard feelings are."

Luna's surprise education overhaul in January 2011, revealed in partnership with Gov. Butch Otter, cut to the quick. Drafted in secret, without stakeholder input, it was rammed through the Legislature by the GOP supermajority over widespread public opposition. The proof of that sour pudding came in the 2012 election.

Despite Bedke's calming words, Democrats remain skeptical.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, respects Bedke but says he misreads the grass roots.

The school board bills "push teachers into a corner," Rusche said, leaving them few options: sue, as teachers in Nampa are doing over pay cuts; leave Idaho for a state that rewards and respects teachers more; or strike, something that hasn't happened in almost 20 years.

Rusche said the interim committee and Otter's task force must overcome what some see as bad faith. Hopeful at the start of the session for consensus on reform in 2014, Rusche now says, "We'll have to see how people respond having a thumb put in their eye."

As a junior lawmaker, Bedke studied K-12 education carefully, making himself an expert on the budget. Ordinarily thick-skinned, he bruises easily when folks question his commitment to public schools.

Bedke's rhetoric on consensus isn't just blather. He told reporters at Otter's adjournment press conference that he's determined not to "repeat any of the mistakes of the past."

"I think we're well positioned with the governor's task force as well as the interim committee to flesh out these issues," Bedke said. "When we have this conversation next year, I think we'll see significant progress."

In Bedke-speak, that's a promise. For teachers to snub his outreach would be a grave error.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics


Originally posted at http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/04/10/2528043/bedke-finds-silver-lining-in-repeal.html

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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