By Victor Skinner

BOISE, Idaho – The debate over Idaho’s sweeping education reforms is coming to a boil as the November election approaches with three separate referendums on the state ballot to repeal the new laws.

State Rep. Brian Cronin, a Boise Democrat working as a paid consultant for the campaign to undo the student-centered changes, accused state superintendent Tom Luna of inappropriately grabbing his arm at a public event and giving the lawmaker a piece of his mind, the Spokesman-Review reports.

“He grabbed my arm rather forcefully and got in my face and said, ‘That’s the biggest bullshit I’ve ever heard,’” Cronin told the newspaper. “I looked at the people at the lead table and I think they saw that I was visibly alarmed, shaken, but that’s what he said. He grabbed by arm hard enough such that I spilled my water. … When he tried to touch me again, I told him not to touch me.”

A Luna spokeswoman said Cronin is putting words into the superintendent’s mouth.

“He never used that language,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna’s spokeswoman. “That’s completely inaccurate.”

The incident occurred this week at the City Club of Boise, where the two men debated the merits of strong education reforms pushed by Luna and enacted by the state legislature last year. The hour-long forum drew 450 people, according to the Spokesman-Review.

Luna explained how the reforms – including more technology, computers for all students, online learning options, merit pay for teachers, and curbing union collective bargaining privileges – have returned the focus of Idaho’s public education system to students instead of labor unions.

“Every student has equal access and opportunity no matter where they live in Idaho, and that just didn’t exist before,” Luna said, the Spokesman-Review reports. “We accomplished all this without raising anyone’s taxes, at any level.”

Cronin called the reforms “education on the cheap” and “a bait-and-switch con,” according to the newspaper.

From our perspective, it seems obvious which side has a vested conflict of interest in the reforms.

Cronin is serving as a state lawmaker and paid consultant in the union crusade to repeal the changes. The union is upset because state officials are focusing on improving the quality of education, which means paying teachers in part based on their abilities and doing away with union contract rules that put school employees before students.

The reforms also allow school officials to use technology to educate more efficiently, eliminating the need for as many teachers – the dues from which are the union’s life blood.

For Cronin and the union interests fighting to repeal the reforms, it’s all about the money.

This fight will only get nastier in the weeks remaining before the election. We certainly hope the interested parties keep their debates civilized and peaceful, but we suppose there’s no guarantee.

People like Luna desperately want something better for the children of Idaho, and they’re pretty passionate about it. They resent Big Labor types who would throw away the progress already made and return the state’s schools to the dark ages.

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