Senate bill seeks to prohibit online education requirements

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Sen. Branden Durst believes State Board of Education currently has ‘limitless authority’ to change graduation requirements.

“Idaho law gives the State Board of Education limitless authority to change graduation requirements,” according to Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise. Durst has introduced Senate Bill 1005, which, according to the Idaho Legislature’s website, “establishes a prohibition on the establishment of online class requirements for high school graduation by the State Board of Education or the State Department of Education without the express authorization of the Idaho Legislature.”

Two years ago, both the Senate and the House passed legislation authorizing the state board to require online coursework for high school graduation. The law was a part of the Students Come First agenda, and was repealed in the November 2012 election.

“When the State Board of Education met after the election to rescind the administrative rules it had approved as a result of Students Come First legislation, one of the rules was regarding the requirement that all students take online courses to graduate,” Durst explained. “During that discussion many board members, but most notably Rod Lewis, indicated a hesitancy to repeal the online requirement. Mr. Lewis also implied a desire to revisit the issue and place the requirement back in rule.”

While Durst doesn’t want the online course requirement revisited, there is nonetheless disagreement about his claims of the “limitless authority” of the state board.

“The good news is that the process that Sen. Durst apparently wants is already in place,” Tom Luna, state schools superintendent, told IdahoReporter.com. “Neither the State Board of Education nor the Department of Education can set an online course requirement, or any other school graduation requirement for that matter, without ultimately obtaining approval from the Legislature.”

Luna further noted that after the Students Come First legislation was passed two years ago with the online coursework requirement, the state board ultimately had to both approve the requirement and to determine the number of online courses to be required.

Last November when the Students Come First laws were repealed with the defeat of ballot propositions 1, 2 and 3, several school districts nonetheless remained upbeat about the idea of online coursework. “We’re a fairly progressive school district as it is,” noted Coeur d’Alene School District spokesperson Laura Rumpler, at that time. “Long before the Students Come First legislation came about, we had been working toward integrating technology in our schools, implementing blended coursework and so forth.”

In light of Durst’s new legislative proposal, Rumpler’s district seems to remain undeterred. “The Coeur d’Alene School District continues to embrace online learning opportunities for our students, especially the blended learning classroom,” she tells IdahoReporter.com. “We want our students to be well prepared for a diversity of learning formats in both higher education and technical training settings.”

Despite some local school districts being supportive of online learning, Durst rejects the idea of the state mandate. “I feel that voters were crystal clear in their opposition to mandated online courses. In fact, when the rule was originally adopted and public comment was solicited, every single comment received was opposed to the mandate.”

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, sees the issue differently. “I don’t know why we would want to strike online instruction as an option for our schools,” he says. “There are a lot of reasons to have this option, but one has to do with access. For example, there are students in some rural areas that can’t get some course offerings any other way.”

A bit of a different point of view comes from Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. “I do not believe that online classes should be mandated,” says Thayn. “This comes from my libertarian leanings; I do believe online learning is critical. Anyone who does not develop the ability to take online classes will be limited in the future almost as much a person who does not learn to read. However, I prefer to use persuasion rather than mandates.”

Senate Bill 1005 currently is awaiting a committee hearing.

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