BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush visited Idaho on Tuesday to stump for public schools chief Tom Luna's new education laws, saying similar changes are being implemented across the country and critics working to repeal the new laws should first wait for the results.
Bush addressed a technology task force that was formed as part of Luna's new education changes, which eventually will arm every high school student with a laptop while the state Board of Education considers making online courses a requirement for them to graduate in Idaho.
Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise also addressed the group, which is studying Idaho's implementation of the laptop program for high school students. Bush and Wise launched the national campaign "Digital Learning Now!" to promote policies that create more online learning opportunities for students.
"All students are digital learners," Bush said. "You can ignore it if you want, but particularly young people are totally immersed in the digital world."
Besides providing technology upgrades for public schools, Idaho's new education laws will limit education union bargaining rights, introduce teacher merit pay and shift money from salaries to classroom technology.
The state will also make student achievement half of a teacher's job evaluation and ditch the "last hired, first fired" policy used in most school districts across the country for laying off educators, which means teachers with the most seniority will no longer be the last to go.
While Idaho has moved forward with implementation of Luna's changes, a group of teachers and parents who want to repeal the new laws have succeeded in their efforts to place three referendums on the November 2012 ballot. The group collected more than 74,000 signatures on each of their three referendum petitions.
"I think they ought to wait to see the results rather than to let anxiety and fear kind of drive policy. Results ought to drive policy," said Bush, who was governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and like Luna, fought teachers' unions as a part of his education reform efforts.
Opponents of the changes fear they will undermine teachers, increase class sizes and shift state taxpayer money to for-profit, out-of-state companies that will be tapped to provide online curriculum and laptops to students.
"Luna's laws are about turning our public schools into private profit centers for education entrepreneurs - at the expense of taxpayers and our children's education," said petition organizer Michael Lanza in a statement Tuesday.
Since the start of the 2011 Idaho Legislature in January, Luna has argued that Idaho's public education system is no longer sustainable and the state needs to restructure how its scarce education dollars are spent.