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Idaho to take comment on online education rule

BOISE — A plan to make Idaho the first state to require students to take at least two credits online will officially go before the public for comment next week.

The state Board of Education said a 30-day comment period will start next Wednesday on the proposed graduation requirement.

“We’ll give those to the board and if there are changes to be made, they’ll be made,” said board spokesman Mark Browning.

The online education requirement would start with the class of 2016 — students who start high school next fall.

The board is expected to gather public comment through October and consider final approval of the online education rule in November, Browning said. The plan garnered heavy opposition at public hearings across Idaho this summer but still won initial approval from the board during a Sept. 9 special meeting.

The public comment period required after the board voted to advance the rule will not start until Oct. 5, Browning said. That’s when the proposal will be published in a bulletin of state rules slated to go before lawmakers during the 2012 Idaho Legislature, which starts in January.

Schools nationwide offer online classes, but just three states — Alabama, Florida and Michigan — have adopted rules since 2006 to require online learning, according to the International Association of K-12 Online Learning in Washington.

The online rules vary from state to state, but Idaho would be the first to require two credits online. Proponents said these virtual classes will help save money and better prepare students for college, where many courses are online. However, opponents said they replace teachers with computers.

In Idaho, the state Board of Education crafted the online course requirements as part of new education changes that were signed into law earlier this year with backing from public schools chief Tom Luna and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Luna had wanted students to take up to eight online course credits, but that provision was ditched during the 2011 Idaho Legislature amid opposition from parents, teachers and some lawmakers.

The legislation Otter signed into law instead directed the state Board of Education to draft standards governing the online course requirements. The board directed a subcommittee to decide how trustees would proceed in April, and that panel mostly discussed making one or two online credits a requirement to graduate high school.

Luna, who as head of the state Department of Education holds a seat on the board, lauded trustees for advancing the proposal earlier this month.

The move was a critical step in “making sure every Idaho student graduates from high school with the skills they need to be successful in postsecondary education and the workforce,” Luna said after the board’s vote.

The board has said most of the opposition voiced at hearings this summer was directed at Idaho’s new education laws as a whole — not just the online requirements. Idaho is introducing teacher merit pay, limiting union bargaining rights and shifting money from salaries toward classroom technology, phasing in laptops for teachers and students, as part of Luna’s changes.

The education laws were targeted in a referendum campaign earlier this year and will go before Idaho voters in November 2012.

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