Idaho works to carry out online class requirement

Idaho has just become the latest state to require students to take online education courses before graduating.

Now that Idaho has approved a requirement that high school students take at least two credits online, officials are working on plans for a statewide contract expected to include a list of providers for districts to choose from when selecting virtual classes.

Idaho also will phase in mobile computers, such as a laptops or iPads, for every high school teacher and student while making online education courses a graduation requirement under sweeping new education changes backed by public schools chief Tom Luna and the governor.

A task force aimed at helping implement Luna’s plan to increase technology in the classroom met Nov. 7 at the Idaho Capitol in Boise. The goal is to provide schools with a list of online course providers approved and contracted by the state to offer virtual classes to Idaho students, Luna said.

“We want to set up a bank of online providers that have negotiated a statewide contract price. That’s going to drive the cost down,” Luna said during an interview with The Associated Press. “And then, school districts will be able to create a catalog of online courses for their students to choose from.”

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But under the education changes, high school students also will be allowed to enroll in any state-approved online class starting next fall—with or without permission from their school district. The company that provides that online course then will be entitled to two-thirds of the state funding sent to the school district for that student for that class period.

At least one lawmaker on Luna’s task force has expressed concerns that companies picked to provide the online education courses could, in some cases, tap more state funding from some of Idaho’s smaller school districts. That’s because they receive more money per student under Idaho’s funding formula.

For example, an online course company could collect amounts that range from $210 per semester for offering a class to a student in Boise, the state’s largest population center, to $733 for a student in Midvale, a rural town of less than 200 residents, according to state estimates.

This new fractional funding formula would apply only in cases where the student, or his or her parent, has selected a course outside of those offered by the companies that have been contracted by the state for a set amount. State Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, serves on Luna’s task force and has questioned the apparent disparities under the funding formula and whether they could make it more appealing for an online education provider to market its virtual classes to parents in rural areas of the state.

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