Mike Lanza, father of two Boise elementary school children, stood on the steps of the statehouse as day turned to twilight on Feb. 7.
"I know we have a lot of school kids here, don't we?" Lanza asked. About 100 school kids raised their hands.
"Why don't you kids mingle together because under Tom Luna's plan you'll probably end up in the same classroom next year."
Nervous laughter erupted. The rally, primarily comprised of parents, took aim at a sweeping proposal to reform Idaho's classrooms. Earlier the same day, Luna, Idaho's superintendent of Public Instruction, touted his proposal to the Senate Education Committee. The most controversial elements of Luna's plan include eliminating nearly 800 teaching jobs, increasing class sizes, requiring online learning and handing out lap tops to every high school student in the state.
"The superintendent is flat out wrong on his class size logic," said Jeff Wilhelm, professor of English education at Boise State. "I have spoken to some of the top researchers in this area and they all tell me the same thing: You can't do more with more students in the classroom. Once you get more than 23 kids in a class, they will learn less. Teaching and learning are relational. They require personal interaction. So when the superintendent says the research is inconclusive, he's wrong."
Penny Beach said her children are currently getting a great education at Longfellow Elementary in Boise, but she's worried.
"I actually agree with some parts of Luna's plan," said Beach. "But there are some parts that absolutely enrage me. Increasing class size? Laying off or not hiring back 800 teachers? And using the money to pay for lap tops? It would be a waste of our tax dollars and probably end up costing us more money in the long run."
Beach, Wilhelm and nearly 400 more made last-minute plans to attend the hastily organized event.
"When I read what Luna was proposing, I was outraged," said Lanza. "I sent an e-mail to a friend, expressing my frustration. Well, my friend sent that e-mail to a few others, and they sent it to a few more. One woman said she sent my e-mail to 40 people. Today's event is a result of a groundswell of opposition to Luna's plan."
The Senate Education Committee will continue to consider the controversial proposal with public testimony through Thursday, Feb 10.