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Grant means one Idaho budget cut reversed

Tue., Aug. 10, 2010, 9:48 a.m.

BOISE - One state budget cut has been reversed, and just in time: A grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation will let Idaho high school students take advanced classes online this fall, removing new enrollment caps.

The Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a state-run service that offers online courses at minimal cost to students around the state, has received a $100,000 grant as part of the Albertson Foundation’s “Go On” campaign, which is aimed at raising Idaho’s dismally low rate of students going on to further education after high school.

That’ll head off unprecedented caps on enrollment in the classes that were imposed as part of a 22 percent cut in state funding for the academy this year.

“This is a very trying time for educators in Idaho,” said Donna Hutchison, CEO at the state digital academy. “IDLA strives to be part of the solution for districts struggling with budget cuts.”

Some Idaho school districts simply don’t offer Advanced Placement or dual-credit courses, for which students earn both high school and college credit. Others have limited offerings; that’s where the academy comes in.

It’s offering 47 AP or dual-credit classes in the coming school year, ranging from calculus to psychology. The enrollment deadline is Sept. 3.

“Increasing access to educational opportunities such as AP and dual credit classes is essential for Idaho’s students,” said Albertson Foundation Executive Director Jamie MacMillan. “Idaho students rank in the bottom 10 states for students who go on and complete post-secondary training and education. Without access to advanced opportunities such as those IDLA provides, Idaho’s students are far less likely to complete the education necessary to help them - and the state - be as successful as possible.”

The grant also will cover some resources for students preparing for college entrance exams.

But it won’t make up all the budget cuts at IDLA, which saw its budget trimmed from $6.4 million last year to just $5 million for the coming school year. That’s a 22 percent cut in funding for a program that’s seen enrollment growing by 50 percent a year.

Enrollment caps will remain for the rest of the IDLA’s offerings, which include standard courses for students who’ve failed a class, whose school doesn’t offer it, or who can’t fit in into their regular class schedule.

“We’re the math curriculum in some schools,” Hutchison said, noting that Idaho school districts crimped by state budget cuts have increasingly turned to the academy to round out their curriculum.

The academy has cut teacher pay 8 percent, imposed furloughs on its staff and taken other steps along with the enrollment caps. It offers 165 online courses; only the AP and dual-credit courses will be removed from the enrollment cap as a result of the grant.

The academy was created by the Idaho Legislature in 2002.

Idaho lawmakers this year cut an unprecedented 7.5 percent - $128 million - from the state’s public school budget for the coming school year.

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