Idaho lawmakers review online learning rule

BOISE, Idaho (AP) State lawmakers on Tuesday started reviewing a plan that makes Idaho the first state to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate.

The state Board of Education approved the online learning rule in November despite heavy criticism at public hearings held across Idaho last summer. The requirement is now going before lawmakers for review in the 2012 session.

The Senate Education Committee took public testimony Tuesday, and Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, kicked off the hearing with a word of caution, saying testimony against Idaho adopting the plan altogether was "not appropriate."

That's because zero online credits is not an option under the sweeping education overhaul that was signed into law last year with backing from public schools chief Tom Luna and the governor. Idaho is also introducing merit pay, limiting union bargaining rights and phasing in laptops for every high school teacher and student.

Luna had wanted students to take up to eight online course credits to graduate high school, but that provision was ditched during the 2011 Idaho Legislature amid opposition from parents, teachers and some lawmakers. An effort to require students to take four online credits also failed.

The legislation that was approved instead directed the state Board of Education to determine how many online courses should be required of students.

The board settled on two credits, requiring one in the form of an asynchronous course, where students move at their own pace and interact with their teacher as needed. During a synchronous course, students and their instructors are online together, at a scheduled time.

"I believe all students are capable of meeting this requirement," Luna said.

But the testimony before the Idaho Senate committee was mostly against the plan. The head of the state School Boards Association was among those who urged lawmakers to leave the delivery of the online courses up to school districts, rather than requiring students take at least one credit in the form of an asynchronous course.

"We understand and do not object to the requirement for two online courses, what we object to is how those courses must be taken. We feel that decision should be left at each local school district," said Idaho School Boards Association Director Karen Echeverria.

The Senate committee was expected to vote on the proposal Wednesday.

Schools nationwide offer online classes, but just three states Alabama, Florida and Michigan have adopted rules since 2006 to require online learning, according to the International Association of K-12 Online Learning in Washington.

The online rules vary from state to state, but Idaho is the first to require two credits online.

Proponents say the online classes will help the state save money and better prepare students for college. But opponents claim they'll replace teachers with computers and shift state taxpayer money to the out-of-state companies that will be tapped to provide the online curriculum and laptops.

While approving the rule in Idaho, trustees on the state Board of Education have countered that most of the opposition to the plan is directed at Luna's education changes as a whole, not just the online requirement.

Critics seeking to overturn the new education laws met a June deadline to put three repeal measures on the November 2012 ballot.