The ever-changing Idaho online learning landscape

Seemingly since the day Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna introduced an aggressive education policy in 2011, the opposition was fierce. Luna's Students Come First plan, embodied in SB1184 (2011) and several other laws, emphasized a technology-driven agenda that included a one-to-one laptop initiative for all students and teachers in the state, a review and approval process for online courses, and greater student choice to enroll in online courses without district approval. After the law passed, opponents gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the November 2012 state ballot to repeal SB1184. Emergency clauses in subsequent 2011 legislation allowed SB1184 to take effect, but with the knowledge that voters would have the final say. Proposition 3, which included most of the online learning policies in the Students Come First legislation, was soundly defeated with a "no" vote of approximately 66%. Two other education propositions on the referendum were also voted down: Proposition 1 overturned the labor relations policies passed as part of SB1108 (2011), and Proposition 2 revoked the teacher pay-for-performance policies of SB1110 that passed earlier in 2012. Nearly $5 million in campaign donations were raised by proponents and opponents of the Propositions 1, 2, and 3, with 75% of those donations going to defeat Proposition 3.

Two controversial aspects of SB1184 had been made into Idaho State Board of Education (SDE) rule before the November referendum: a requirement that all students take at least two online courses to graduate from high school, and a fractional ADA funding formula that would have helped fund online courses, in part, from school district funding. On November 20, 2012 the State Board voted to repeal the online learning graduation requirement by a 7-1 vote. The online learning requirement had been expected to remain because it was in State Board of Education rules, not based solely on the Students Come First legislation. The Board also voted to repeal the fractional ADA funding formula by a vote of 8-0.

Funding for the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA), the state virtual school of Idaho, was significantly impacted in 2011-12 by changes brought about by SB1184, with significant funding decreases and the elimination of IDLA's state appropriation based on a student enrollment formula and some course fees. With the repeal of SB1184, IDLA's original funding formula goes back into effect. However, prior to the referendum, the SDE appropriated $1.2 million to fund IDLA in FY 2013-14, which represents a 78% decrease in operating funds below FY 2012-13. It is unclear how IDLA funding will be handled during the remainder of the 2013-14 school year. IDLA had 17,627 course enrollments in SY 2011-12, a 22% increase from the year before, and its enrollment for SY 2012-13 is on a higher pace. The Idaho School Board Association, Idaho Educators Association, and Idaho Association of School Administrators have endorsed full funding of IDLA, based on the original funding formula, as part of the legislative platforms of those organizational.