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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho repeals online graduation requirement

Milford Terrell, left, Idaho State Board of Education member, participates in a special meeting on Monday morning; at right is board staffer Matt Freeman. (Betsy Russell)
BOISE - It was Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna himself who made the motion at the state Board of Education this morning to repeal the rule requiring that every Idaho high school student take at least two online classes to graduate from high school, now that voters have rejected his tech-heavy “Students Come First” school reform laws. “Proposition 3 was overturned by the voters,” Luna said. He noted that that did not automatically require the state board to jettison the graduation rule. But, he said, “Because of the actions of the voters on Nov. 6 … the perception in the public definitely was that the language on the ballot itself made a reference to the online graduation requirement, and so I think it’s proper that we remove that.” Idaho voters overwhelmingly rejected Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on Nov. 6, with Proposition 3, the technology and online learning measure, failing by a two-to-one margin. Luna’s motion to repeal the rule passed on a 7-1 vote, with just board member Emma Atchley of Ashton objecting. “My biggest concern is that if we do not go forward with the online requirement, and we spend a year deciding whether we’re going to have it or how we’re going to have it, and we all end up wanting it in the end anyway, we’ve just lost another year,” she said. “I understand the political reality, but I think it’s very important that we do not in the end say that we shouldn’t have at least some online learning.” Board member Bill Goesling of Moscow said, “Since the defeat of the propositions, in my discussions with various stakeholders, people agree that there should be some technology requirement. It’s just the type and the numbers that would be in question at this point.” Board member Rod Lewis of Boise said, “I hope that we do have the opportunity to talk further about this issue. If you really look at what’s happening in post-secondary institutions and the change that is occurring there, I think it is going to be increasingly important that we have students at the end of the day know how to take classes online effectively. That will be an increasing component of their post-secondary education and our goal is to prepare students for that time.” Board member Richard Westerberg of Preston responded, “All that being said, and I agree with all of that, the vote was not equivocal. It was a pretty strong vote from the populace, and it was very specific the way it was listed on the ballot. … I think … we need to reaffirm what the voters told us.” The board’s Panhandle member, Don Soltman of Twin Lakes, agreed. He chaired the board’s subcommittee that set the two-online-courses rule, after the “Students Come First” law ordered the board to pick how many online courses should be required for graduation from high school. “The committee of the board that looked at this looked solely at coming up with a number of online requirements,” he said. “Without exception, every hearing that we had across the state, the issue always came up of … opposition to the law itself. And as we addressed those publics when we met, we explained to them that the law was in place, that the charge of the committee was only to identify the number of courses required under the law. But I can say without hesitation, at every hearing there was opposition to the law expressed.” Luna said, “I think what you’ve heard from some board members, and possibly everyone agrees, that knowing how to learn in an online environment is a critical skill.” But, he said, “I just think we need to go through a different process. … I think we should do it as soon as the board is ready. … We need to come at it from a different process.” After the vote, he said, “I do believe we made the right decision today.” The board also voted unanimously, with no discussion, to repeal its rules covering “fractional ADA,” a funding scheme that was part of Proposition 3 that automatically diverted state funds from school districts to online course providers, if students opted to take up to half their high school course load online, whether or not their districts approved. That was part of the reform plan’s push for a new focus on online learning; it also included a failed proposal to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student, at a cost of more than $182 million over the next eight years.