BOISE – Nearly two weeks after Idaho voters turned aside the state’s controversial Students Come First education reforms, the Board of Education on Monday will decide whether to modify or throw out a rule requiring all students take at least two online courses to graduate from high school.
If the board does away with that requirement, it would contradict repeated claims made by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the author of the rejected laws, during the campaign. Luna said the online graduation requirement wouldn’t go away even if voters rejected Proposition 3 because it was in a state board rule. Voters rejected the measure by a two-thirds margin.
The passage of the laws in 2011 directed the board to make the administrative rule governing online courses.
The board has set a special meeting for Monday, and the agenda includes possible modification of the graduation requirement. Specifically, the rule change would remove a stipulation that at least one of the two courses be “asynchronous.” That means the course is delivered entirely online and teachers and students would participate on their own schedules. That requirement drew opposition from school boards, school administrators and Idaho school districts, and state lawmakers voted in their last legislative session to get rid of it.
The board has two options on Monday, spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said: Approve the pending change to the rule, or reconsider the whole rule and do away with the online graduation requirement.
“The board is well aware of the outcome of the election and this board has been very in tune with public input,” Whitney said, noting that there isn’t a legal requirement for the board to throw out its rule.
Board President Ken Edmunds, of Twin Falls, said, “The law has been repealed, and therefore theoretically that means that that is not something that should be on the books, because it was strictly tied to it.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.”
What the voters said “matters a great deal,” Edmunds said.
Edmunds said he believes “online education is part of the future” but isn’t sure requiring two classes is the answer. “It creates a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said.
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 3 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: Repealing the formula in which a portion of Idaho school districts’ state funding is automatically diverted to an online course provider if students choose to take some of their courses online. The reform 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.
One other rule change on the board’s agenda also relates to the repealed laws, regarding teacher and principal evaluations. On that issue, the board may choose to gather input before taking action.