BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The battle over education — from merit pay for teachers to putting Hewlett-Packard laptops in high school classrooms — is The Associated Press' top story in Idaho for 2012.
For the second straight year, the public debate over a series of new laws aimed at reshaping the public schools dominated headlines across the state.
The debate came to a climax in November when voters upended all of the laws passed in 2011 to change teacher contract negotiations, reward teachers for student achievement and integrate more online learning into high school classrooms. In doing so, voters dealt a stinging rebuke to Superintendent of Public Schools Tom Luna and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, the chief supporters of the measures.
When the ballots were tallied, two-thirds of voters rejected Luna's plan to spend $180 million to lease laptops and create online-class mandates. A union-busting bill to put limits on teachers' collective bargaining rights and merit pay for teachers also flamed out.
Here are the other top stories for 2012 chosen by The Associated Press:
Idaho experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons, with 1,151 wildfires tallied and a nation-leading 2,600 square miles burned, the most in the state since 2007, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The fires also claimed the life of 20-year-old firefighter, Anne Veseth of Moscow. She was killed Aug. 12 when she was struck by a falling tree while battling a fire near Orofino.
John McGee saga:
John McGee's political career survived a 2011 drunken-driving conviction, but sexual-harassment allegations ended the former Republican senator's career in February after a female aide told detectives she was propositioned for sex by McGee and subjected to other unwanted sexual advances. The former GOP majority caucus chairman from Caldwell was sentenced in August to at least 44 days in jail after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace.
Former Micron Technology CEO Steve Appleton's life ended Feb. 3 when the experimental plane he was piloting crashed at the Boise Airport. Appleton, who had a reputation as a hard-driving daredevil, was known for takings risks in stunt piloting and he survived a similar crash eight years earlier. Micron colleagues said that same energy and drive helped establish the Idaho company's place on the world stage as one of the leaders in memory-chip production.
Private prison woes:
Idaho's prison system had another rocky year. It kicked off with a report that some prison guards were smuggling in cellphones so inmates could carry out drug deals behind bars and ended with a warning from the ACLU that the state's largest private prison contractor appeared to be violating a legal settlement over conditions at Idaho's largest prison.
The months between were punctuated with scandals: An Associated Press investigation showed that the state's contract with private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America didn't save taxpayers any money at all despite a decade of state leaders promising otherwise; a court-ordered examination of the state-run Idaho State Correctional Institution showed that medical care at that prison was so poor that it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. In November yet another lawsuit was filed by inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center claiming that private contractor CCA has essentially ceded control to prison gangs in an effort to control inmates and reduce staffing costs