Opponents of Idaho's new education reform laws say they're confident they have collected enough signatures to get a trio of referendums on the ballot in November 2012.
Mike Lanza, chairman of Idahoans for Responsible Education Reform, announced Wednesday afternoon that organizers had collected the nearly 48,000 signatures necessary for each petition to become a referendum.
The parent-led organization began the petition drive in April and was subsequently joined by the Idaho Education Association.
If the referendums reach the ballot, organizers hope a majority of Idaho voters will choose to overturn Senate Bills 1108, 1110 and 1184, the reform laws collectively known as "Students Come First."
The laws, championed by Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and passed this year by the Idaho Legislature, deal with school district collective bargaining, pay for performance for teachers and increased technology in the classroom.
"We knew the referendum was a possibility, but I remain confident that a majority of Idahoans support education reform in Idaho," Luna said in a statement released by his office Wednesday afternoon.
IEA President Sherri Wood laughed at the idea that a "silent majority" will stand up to support the laws.
"I haven't seen it, and I didn't see it through the legislative session," she said. "... I don't know how you organize people and do it in a silent manner. I just don't see it."
Luna said repealing the laws "would mean a return to the status quo" where "classrooms remain stuck in the 20th century" and "every teacher is paid the exact same."
Wood said keeping the laws in place would mean students will face "larger class sizes" and "fewer teachers in the classrooms each fall."
Petition drive organizers have until June 6 to deliver signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State's office, but organizers aim to have at least 60,000 signatures turned in by this Wednesday.
"We are asking everyone who is carrying a petition ... to get them notarized and turned in so we don't overwhelm the clerks," Wood said.
She said each of the IEA's nine regions set goals for how many signatures they wanted to collect.
Region 2, which spans from Potlatch to Riggins and includes Latah and Nez Perce counties, met its goal of 3,800 signatures about two weeks ago, said IEA Director of Communications Julie Fanselow.
"As of (Tuesday), educators and parent volunteers (in Region 2) had collected 4,654," Fanselow said. "Even more remarkable, their goal for the past week was 349 signatures, and they collected 1,304 in that time."
Penni Cyr, a media specialist at Moscow High School and one of the local petition drive leaders, said organizers in Moscow have received great responses from parents, teachers, retired teachers and members of the general public.
She said a few people have said they're OK with the new education laws or that they needed to read the laws before deciding to sign the petitions, but she said feedback has been positive, for the most part.
"I think what that says is people here in Latah County, Nez Perce County and Region 2 feel as strongly as we do about these laws, to get them on the ballot so the people can decide," she said.
Wood said she collected signatures while in Latah County last week and only had four people decline to sign the petitions.
"I have yet to encounter anyone who gets cranky about it," she said.
Cyr said many Democrats and Republicans alike want the laws overturned.
Luna said returning to the old system in Idaho "isn't the answer to the challenges we face in education today."
"The burden of proof should be on those who want to defend the status quo, not on those who want to change it," he said.
Holly Bowen can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by email to hbowendnews.com. Follow her on Twitter: DailyNewsHolly
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(c) 2011, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho
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