Initial reaction to Idaho’s new dual enrollment law consisted largely of hand wringing and heartburn.
Some confusion and concerns remain. But with the school year about to begin, administrators seem more comfortable about welcoming private- and home-school students to public classrooms and playing fields.
“It hasn’t emerged as a real critical thing,” Moscow School Superintendent Jack Hill said. “Maybe I’m too premature in this and it may get real sticky. We were real concerned how we would handle it, but we just don’t think there are that many people beating down the doors.”
Legislators adopted the dual enrollment law effective July 1 to ensure all Idaho children have access to public school programs.
Backers called it a way to help nonpublic school students - who are, after all, the children of taxpayers - with subjects like chemistry, physics and computer science that are difficult to teach at home.
But critics argued that the measure would make full-time public school students second-class citizens by requiring them to meet tougher attendance and academic standards than nonpublic school students for participation in sports and other extracurricular activities.
“I think the rules go down the tube,” Republican Sen. Denton Darrington, a Declo schoolteacher, said in opposing the bill that passed 69-1 in the House and 26-9 in the Senate.
How to prevent the appearance of inequity was among the questions local superintendents and principals throughout Idaho asked State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox during her postlegislative briefings last spring.
Fox agreed that parts of the law were ambiguous. And while the Department of Education’s deputy attorney general started trying to answer questions about what districts could and could not do, the state Board of Education began developing guidelines for local policies.
Among the proposed rules is making eligibility for extracurricular activities at public schools subject to just an average score on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills for grade-schoolers and the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency for high-schoolers.
Since the next tests will not be administered until October and results unavailable until December, affidavits are being accepted from “primary education providers” certifying that non-public school students are eligible based on past test results and current academic progress.
Michael Friend, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, said he thinks that creates a double standard this fall. But to help school officials make the new rules work, the first step is finding out what districts are facing.
The association mailed a one-page questionnaire in early August to all 112 Idaho school districts. It asks how many students are dually enrolled and for how many hours in each grade as well as for any “specific issues and opportunities” districts have experienced.
School officials also are asked to say by Oct. 1 how many students are enrolled in each of a dozen classes - art, math, band, choir, computer, physical education, reading, physics, speech, biology, chemistry and drama - and in activities including football, volleyball and cross country.
As students turned out during the past week for the season’s first high school athletic practices, that impact, at least, was hardly noticeable.
“We’re just not getting a lot of calls. I think I’ve fielded seven calls across the state” from principals, athletic directors and coaches seeking advice on eligibility, said Bill Young, executive director of the Idaho High School Activities Association. “We really don’t see it as a problem.”
The Meridian School District’s decision last year to allow a ninth grade home-school student to compete in public school cross country ignited a controversy that helped prompt the new law. But Meridian Superintendent Bob Haley said only a handful of non-public school students is likely to enroll in his district’s sports, music or academic programs.
“I anticipate that if we have 10 kids all year that will be a big number. I may be wrong, but I think it’s pretty minor,” said Haley, whose district will enroll about 18,000 students.
Still, he fears the new law is “going to create a bucket of worms” by providing some full-time public school students a way to avoid attendance requirements for graduation.
With classes just two weeks off, the only call he had received about dual enrollment was from the parent of a high school senior who wanted to be excused part of the day to take a class at Boise State University.
“In the past we’ve been able to accommodate requests from home schoolers. We’ve always had the flexibility,” Haley said. “Right now I’m more concerned about whether this dual enrollment bill eliminates all rules and regs on classroom time.”
Moscow’s Hill considers that a potential benefit.
“Dual enrollment may be the catalyst to have our schools think more closely about seat-time as the criteria for courses. We know that learning doesn’t work that way,” he said.
“The current Idaho Code doesn’t allow the flexibility that we think it should to prepare kids for the world they’re going to face. I think dual enrollment is the vehicle, at least in a way, to break the mindsets of some people so we can be more innovative.”