Travis Manning is a husband, father, English teacher and up until recently, a wresting coach at Vallivue High School. But above all, he's an advocate. As a young man, Manning wanted to be a lawyer.
"But I quickly learned that I'm a people person, not a paper person," said Manning, who instead turned to teaching.
Manning, 41, doesn't like many of the recent education reforms crafted by Idaho lawmakers, in particular Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. In fact, Manning was actively involved in last year's unsuccessful petition drive to recall Luna and a separate successful petition drive to put Luna's Students Come First education reforms before voters in November.
Manning is the executive director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation, which has a primary focus of convincing voters to turn back the "Luna Laws."
What's the backstory to the formation of your group?
Last year, I was pretty involved in the recall-petition effort, and at the height of our campaign, the Vallivue School District received a public-records request asking for details from my email account. It came from idahoreporter.com. They put in similar requests for emails of two teachers in the Meridian School District and one from the Nampa School District.
Idahoreporter.com is the subsidiary of Wayne Hoffman's Idaho Freedom Foundation.
It's their propaganda arm. The request came from Mr. Hoffman's reporter Dustin Hurst. His initials are rather appropriate: D.H.--symbolic of his style of reporting--designated hitter. Hoffman used to work for Tom Luna. They're on the same page in many ways regarding these education reforms.
So you turned over all of your emails?
Yes. They wanted them for a two-week period from last April. I gave them all my junk mail and spam, too. Punks.
I think the intent was to put a chilling effect on the referendum recall movement.
I know for sure that the Meridian School [District] superintendent went ballistic. There was a member of the Meridian teachers association that was basically a mole. That person forwarded information to Luna, who forwarded it to idahoreporter.com, and they did a story that nobody really looked at anyway.
The effort to recall Luna came up very short.
We needed something like 158,00 signatures. I just don't think our organization had structure or funding. It costs a lot of money to run a strong petition campaign.
We've talked to a number of teachers, and a good number of them have been afraid to talk publicly about their concerns over the Luna laws. Does that surprise you?
If they speak out too loudly, and if they have one pissed-off administrator or one pissed-off board member, they're gone. There's a reason for collective bargaining and continuing contracts to protect educators. Teachers are a political football. We're governed at all angles by elected officials--from Congress to state legislators to school boards. The academic freedom that teachers have is shrinking.
Is it your sense that the Idaho Education Association has been demonized by its opponents?
They're not the Mafia. They're not the Teamsters. They're good people who are engaged in political dialogue. Teachers are so focused on the classroom that we don't have time to engage in the political discourse that is needed in order to keep our lawmakers informed.
What is your organization's primary focus between now and November?
We're part of a larger coalition, which is intensely engaged in making sure Idaho voters know all the facts concerning this fall's referendum vote. Mr. Luna is doing a pretty good job in getting his message out there, though once in a while, he sticks his foot in his mouth.
But it will come down to votes on how people feel about these reforms.
The Luna reforms are a slap in the face to education. It drives me crazy when this corporate-driven reform is jammed down our throats.
Other than the Freedom of Information request, have you been intimidated or harassed over your efforts?
Subtle things. I feel deeply about being a voice for the voiceless--teachers in their classrooms working their butts off, kids who have no clue of the larger world around them, and parents who are just trying to get by and don't know how to communicate with policymakers.