Opinion » Bill Cope

Hostile Takeover

Part 1: The Road to Luna Inc.

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"When it comes to K-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone ..."

--Rupert Murdoch, media mogul and investor in privatized education

Let's walk this through one last time before the election.

In 2002: Tom Luna--a man with such an empty background in either educating anyone or being educated by anyone that many Idahoans thought it was some kind of cynical joke that the GOP would offer him as a candidate for the superintendent of education post--lost the race. Soon thereafter, he landed a job in the Bush administration's Department of Education, even though he still had never educated anyone and his own education amounted to a quickie online degree he'd snatched in a tactic to counter the criticism he had nothing weightier in his resume than a high school diploma--if that. (His degree is in "weights and measurements," so we must presume he now knows how to tell the difference between an ounce and a foot, if nothing about what it's like to teach an overcrowded classroom.)

From 2003 to 2005: During his time in D.C., Luna associated extensively with advocates of privatizing education, including former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who at that time was best known for two things: 1. lending his name to K12 Inc., a hawker of online course material, 2. his gambling habit.

In 2006: Luna ran again for Idaho's superintendent spot, touting his experience as a mucky muck in Bush's Department of Education. This time, he won and spent the next four years pushing for more charter schools and promoting Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program, a policy that has had approximately the same success as Bush's "Saddam Hussein Has WMDs" and "Let Wall Street Regulate Itself" policies.

In 2010: Luna ran for a second term, claiming his accomplishments had done wondrous things for Idaho's education system. Two months after winning re-election, he introduced radical reforms to the 2011 Legislature, claiming Idaho's education system is an irredeemable mess. The reforms revolved around two main themes: 1. that teachers' unions were the problem, and 2. that laptop computers (paid for with Idahoans' taxes) and online course material (also paid for with Idahoans' taxes) were the only ways to solve the problem.

Hundreds of Idaho parents, teachers and concerned citizens traveled to Boise to testify against the reforms--which Luna insisted had come from his own brain, in spite of an ideological slime trail that led straight to radical-right mosh pits like the Idaho Freedom Foundation lobby and the subterranean American Legislative Exchange Council. But no matter that Idahoans had proven themselves overwhelmingly against the reforms, the Legislature--itself little more than a lap dancer to ALEC's insatiable lust for power and profit--passed the reforms and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed them into law.

However, during the debate over the reforms, it became clear that those Idahoans most avidly for the reforms were those whose interests in the matter went beyond mere philanthropy. Even while the editorial pages were filled with letters protesting Luna's passed-down ideas, full-page ads appeared from such sources as the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and Frank VanderSloot's Melaleuca empire, explaining to normal dumb ol' Idaho parents that the Luna laws were exactly what is needed to give their chil'runs the opportunities to succeed in this new century.

The schism between what parents, teachers and concerned citizens were arguing, and what the wealthiest people in Idaho were arguing brought about an unusual level of reportage from Idaho journalists, and as the reporting intensified, it was found that many of the people advocating most vociferously for the reforms had invested heavily in the private interests that would benefit most richly if such an endless gravy boat of public funds were poured endlessly over their biscuits. It was revealed that Joe Scott, an heir to the Albertson fortune, and Thomas Wilford, the CEO of the Albertson Foundation, had put hundreds of thousands of dollars into companies providing online courses--particularly K12 Inc.--so it is little wonder that they burned their charitable reputation to cinders by insisting the reforms were the way to go? (It's less clear that the billionaire Frank VanderSloot has money riding on the implementation of the reforms. But he has a long history of bullying anyone who doesn't walk the line he has drawn, and I, for one, question whether his intense interest in this matter has more to do with his personal finances than any concern he may have for your kid's future.)

Unwilling to roll over, the Idaho Education Association backed a referendum to put Luna's reforms on the ballot in 2012. The petition drive gathered the signatures required easily. This ensured Idahoans would have the final say in what Luna, the Legislature and the governor force fed them a year and a half ago.

In 2012: Meanwhile, during that year and a half, Luna and cohorts have been scurrying about like busy, busy bees, instituting his reforms, despite the possibility those reforms might be rejected like a bad kidney transplant Tuesday, Nov. 6. The purchase of the computers (paid for with Idahoans' taxes) has already begun, and the process of implementing the other changes are sailing full-steam ahead as though there isn't a dark cloud in the sky.

Next week: Once gone, it's gone for good.

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