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Landmark Online-Class Mandate On the Move in Idaho

UPDATED

Idaho is moving closer to establishing one of the farthest-reaching requirements in the country for students to take online education courses, though the measure has to clear a couple final hurdles first.

The state's board of education late last week approved rules that would mandate that students complete two, one-semester online classes before graduating.

The basis for those rules was a law approved by the state legislature earlier this year, over the objections of those who said it would dilute the quality of instruction by doing away with teachers in certain classes. One of the state board members is Tom Luna, the state's superintendent of public instruction, who championed the measure before state lawmakers and the public.

The new rules now go out for public comment, and they would come back for a second and final vote later this year, said board spokesman Mark Browning. After that, he said, the rules will be sent to the legislature for approval.

But even then, the law won't be in the clear. Opponents of the measure succeeded in having it placed on the statewide ballot in November of 2012 for a repeal vote, along with two other contentious education laws approved this past legislative session.

Individual school districts will be allowed to decide what types of online courses they want to offer to fulfill the requirement, Browning said. School districts could draft their own content for the online courses, or have an outside provider develop it for them. Some school systems have been using online courses for years, the board spokesman said, while others "are looking at completely revamping the way they're doing things." The state has 115 school districts, he added, "and they're looking at 115 different solutions."

Idaho would become one of only four states—along with Alabama, Florida, and Michigan—that require students to take online education courses to graduate, according to Susan Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

Idaho's requirement, with its two-credit mandate, "is the most ambitious of any state," Patrick said in an e-mail.

UPDATE: Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett says he wants all students in his state to take at least one online education course, too.

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