BOISE - Despite overwhelmingly negative public comment, Idaho’s State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to give final approval to a new rule requiring every Idaho student to take two online classes to graduate from high school.
The rule, a centerpiece of state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform plan, takes effect with this year’s 8th graders, the high school class of 2016.
Parents, teachers and others opposed to the reform plan, which also includes removing most collective bargaining rights from teachers, phasing in a laptop computer for every high school student and teacher, and shifting money from teacher pay to technology purchases and merit-pay bonuses, have qualified a referendum for the November 2012 ballot that could overturn it in its entirety.
In the meantime, the state is proceeding with the reform plans. “The board is firmly behind online learning,” said Richard Westerberg, state board president. “We believe it’s imperative moving forward that our students be able to have skills in that area.”
Idaho will become the first state to require two online classes to graduate from high school. Just three states, Alabama, Florida and Michigan, now require online learning at all.
The state board held seven public hearings across the state last summer on the proposed rule; 46 people testified, with all but eight opposing the new requirement, and 30 submitted written comments, all opposed. In the final public comment period that ran for three weeks before Thursday’s vote, 10 more written comments were received, all negative.
Board member Don Soltman of Kootenai County said the commenters generally “felt there should not be an online learning requirement,” and also expressed concerns about impacts on school district finances and the on the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, an existing state-funded operation that offers voluntary online classes to high school students statewide.
Westerberg said, “We certainly received some input.” He said the public comments “actually informed what the rule might be,” noting, “Two credits is actually a fairly modest requirement.” Luna’s original proposal was to require eight online classes for graduation.
The Idaho Education Association, Idaho’s teachers union, blasted the state board’s vote Thursday. “Idahoans will have the last word on this mandate at the ballot box in November 2012 by overturning the law requiring online credits and one-size-fits-all mobile computing devices,” the IEA said in a statement. “Local districts ought to have the right to decide what’s best for their students without mandates imposed by bureaucrats in Boise.”
The Idaho Legislature will review the rule during its session that starts in January, but it already passed the school-reform legislation that called for the new online-class requirement.
Westerberg said, “There is no equivocation among the board members - that’s an area that we need to get good at, our students need to get good at.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.