BOISE - Idaho’s State Board of Education has set a special meeting for Monday, at which it could decide to repeal a rule requiring all Idaho students to take at least two online courses to graduate from high school, now that the “Students Come First” law that directed the board to make the rule has been repealed by voters.
“There isn’t a legal requirement, because the board has the authority to set administrative rules and to set graduation requirements,” said board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney. “That having been said, the board is well aware of the outcome of the election and this board has been very in tune with public input.”
Board President Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls said, “The law has been repealed, and therefore theoretically that means that that is not something that should be on the books, because it was strictly tied to it. Our board needs to talk about that, though. Because this is really part of an overall picture, and we need to talk about where we’re going. So I’m looking forward to a discussion among the board.”
What the voters said “matters a great deal,” Edmunds said. “If people aren’t satisfied with what we’re doing, they’re not going to support further change.”
During the campaign, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the author of the “Students Come First” laws, said repeatedly that the online graduation requirement wouldn’t go away even if voters rejected Proposition 3, because it was in a state board rule.
Edmunds said, “I still believe that online education is part of the future. I am not certain that the two credits is necessarily the answer. It creates a one size fits all approach.”
The board’s agenda includes a pending rule to modify the graduation requirement, removing controversial requirements that at least one of the courses be “asynchronous,” meaning the course is delivered entirely online and teachers and students participate on their own schedules. That requirement drew opposition from school boards, school administrators and Idaho school districts; state lawmakers voted in in their last legislative session to do away with it.
The board has two options on Monday, Whitney said: Approve the pending change to the rule, or reconsider the whole rule and do away with the online graduation requirement.
The board’s agenda packet for Monday’s meeting includes this note: “The part of the question posed to the voters in Proposition 3 clearly included the repeal of online learning as a graduation requirement. While the Board has the authority to promulgate rules setting minimum high school graduation requirements, the failure of proposition three removed the statutory requirement that they include online learning for the class of 2016.”
In addition, the board’s agenda includes a slate of other rule changes, including another one directly related to the failure of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 last week: Repealing the “fractional ADA” formula in which a portion of Idaho school districts’ state funding is automatically diverted to an online course provider, with or without the district’s permission, if students choose to take some of their courses online. The “Students Come First” laws passed in 2011 originally allowed high school students to choose that option for their entire course load; a 2012 law revised that to half their course load.
Whitney said that rule is legally required to be repealed, now that the state law authorizing the payments scheme has been repealed by voters. That, too, happened in Proposition 3, which included a plan to supply laptop computers to every Idaho high school student and a new emphasis on online learning.
“Fractional ADA” refers to Average Daily Attendance, which is the basis on which school districts receive their state funding, as it’s tied through a complex formula to the number of students. The Idaho School Administrators Association strongly opposed the scheme in the 2011 Legislature.
Edmunds said, “That actually was the subject of discussion many times with superintendents and administrators and even with teachers, trying to understand what impact that had on them. It has a much deeper impact that I originally thought.” Said Edmunds, “The funding issues are very significant.”
One other rule change on the board’s agenda also relates to “Students Come First,” regarding teacher and principal evaluations. On that issue, the board may choose to gather input from stakeholders before taking action.
Edmunds said, “That is actually one that I don’t think our board has a full understanding of which ones are mandated by law, which are considered as policy. That’s a little more technical in its application than some of the others.”