Bending to the will of Idaho voters, members of the State Board of Education voted 7-1 Nov. 19 to ditch a requirement that Idaho high school students take two online classes to graduate.
But the decision clearly won’t be the last time the issue comes up: Nearly all of the board members said some Internet-learning mandate was necessary, to prepare public school students for the evolving, technology-dominated work force.
On Nov. 6, voters rejected all three laws that encompassed public schools chief Tom Luna’s education overhaul.
Most unpopular was Proposition 3, which included a $180 million contract for laptops, and the law directing the State Board of Education to establish an online requirement. Board members said their repeal of the two-credit requirement essentially resets discussions with groups including the Idaho Education Association teachers union about what level of online learning is appropriate.
“I still want to rapidly get back to the stakeholder approach that does something regarding the integration of technology in our classrooms,” said Board President Kenneth Edmunds, of Twin Falls, during the meeting in Boise.
With the vote, Idaho retreats from the ranks of states – Alabama, Florida and Michigan are the others – requiring Internet courses to graduate.
The Idaho Education Association didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the decision.
Luna’s now-defunct education laws also included limits on collective bargaining for teachers, scaled-back job protections and a new system of merit-pay bonuses.
When the package was introduced during the 2011 Legislature, it included Luna’s proposed requirement that students take at least eight classes online to graduate.
As marchers by the hundreds circled the Idaho Capitol with banners, however, lawmakers softened the law to require only that the State Board of Education establish how many online classes would be required as part of their rules.
The board settled on two classes in November 2011.
With the outcome on Nov. 6, however, members of the board that sets Idaho education policy – including Luna, who sits on the panel – concluded the voters had spoken: The requirement needed to go, to be replaced by a new discussion.
“The perception in the public definitely was that the language on the ballot itself made a reference to the online graduation requirement,” said Luna, who supported the change. “I think it’s proper that we remove that as part of the pending rule.”
Not everybody on the eight-member panel agreed.
Emma Atchley, a board member from Ashton in eastern Idaho, said she feared dumping the two-course online requirement would set back the ability of Idaho’s educational system to prepare students for the digital post-graduation world.
“If 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 it’s very important that we do not in the end say that we shouldn’t have some online learning.”
Still, board member Richard Westerberg of Preston said the board had virtually no other option than to start from scratch, given the Election Day result.
“The vote was not equivocal,” Westerberg said. “We need to reaffirm what the voters told us.”