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Below is a copy of a letter Joanne Taylor of Boise (that’s me!) wrote to Idaho legislators that represent District 16.* The letter voices concerns about Tom Luna’s proposed public education reform plan. Many thoughts and opinions have been expressed about the plan but there might be a few new ones here. Please feel free to comment and, if you feel strongly about this issue, please consider writing to your legislators.
Dear Representative Higgins,
My name is Joanne Taylor. I live in Boise (District 16) and have two children who attend Cynthia Mann Elementary School.
I do not take writing to you lightly. It is the first time I have done so, as I have reserved my voice for a time when needed most.
That time is now.
I am very concerned about the education reform plan Tom Luna has proposed. There are many reasons for my concern, but I will focus on three.
The first is class size. My 4th-grader, a straight-A student this year, has 29 classmates. While she maintains good grades, she, like all the other students in her class, gets very little attention from her teacher. This isn’t because the teacher is not adequate or caring. It’s because there are only so many hours in the day, and just keeping order in a classroom that size is a full-time job. In order to keep up, the teacher arrives early and leaves late–oftentimes, after 7 p.m.
This situation is not uncommon. Before making a vote on the proposed education reform plan, I urge you to sit in on a classroom of this size for one day, so that you can get a clear picture of the dynamics of an over-crowded classroom, and the challenges it presents to the teacher and the students.
My second concern is the provision of laptops to high school students. I ask you to consider whether careful consideration has been given to the cost of maintaining thousands of laptops throughout the state. IT support, a help desk, software upgrades, laptop repairs, losses due to theft and/or damage, virus fixes, and recovery of identify theft should be among the time and costs that are tallied and accounted for in Luna’s plan.
In addition to maintenance and repair costs, questions of possible abuse must be addressed. Porn sites, social media networks, and online dating services are among a host of distractions that unsupervised use of laptops will put at the fingertips of teenagers.
My third concern is lack of motivation on the part of state leaders to find alternative solutions to close the budget gap in order to minimize public education cuts. I’ve heard of two such solutions in the past two weeks–the sale of the empty and costly “Governor’s Mansion,” and privatization of state liquor stores. Both ideas have been rejected.
Another alternative, which there is very little talk of but great need, is the pursuit of federal and private grants. The federal government and private foundations are offering hundreds of grants to help fund public education. Grant funds are used for school programs, curriculum development, professional development for teachers, technology equipment and software, and technological training. One school district in Nevada, the Washoe County School District, raised $63 million dollars last year through the application of grants. If every student does indeed come first, perhaps the state should explore how it might work with Idaho school districts to develop a strategic plan to apply for and win federal and private grants.
As a Representative for District 16, please take into account these concerns, as well as others voiced by your constituents.
Joanne Taylor, Boise
*District 16 legislators are Les Bock, Grant Burgoyne and Elfreda Higgins.