State Board considers tightening dual credit language

Another important surprise item emerged during the State Board of Education’s Monday meeting: a possible change to Idaho’s dual-credit law.

Here’s the problem: The State Board wants to make sure the state is only paying for college credits that help a high school student work toward a postsecondary degree. At one point, Idaho high school students were able to take a college class in fly fishing.

That’s no longer allowed, but the majority of dual credit classes can only be used as electives. And this can come as a rude awakening to parents who expect the dual credits to help their kids get a head start on a degree.

So on Monday, the State Board considered language that would limit dual credit-eligible classes to general education courses, or courses that would qualify “as a postsecondary degree or certificate program requirement.”

(The full language appears on page 37 of the 52-page packet of materials for Monday’s board meeting.)

With the state ramping up advanced opportunities — making $4,125 available for every student to use from seventh through 12th grade — the state wants the money to be used “in a focused way,” said Tracie Bent of the State Board.

In spite of Monday’s vote, State Board members said they could reconsider the language between now and November. So it’s possible that the idea won’t surface during the 2017 legislative session.

And based on Monday’s discussion, some board members aren’t sure the state should discourage high school students from taking college courses. Board member David Hill of Boise called the language a “blunt instrument” to address problems with the dual credit program.

Pete Koehler, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s chief deputy, cautioned against language that could “dampen” Idaho’s growing dual credit program. The state bankrolled 80,000 dual credits in 2015-16, at a cost of $4.8 million, and the price tag is expected to increase to $5.7 million in 2016-17.

The dual credit discussion dominated Monday’s 45-minute conference call — but it didn’t appear on the board’s agenda. The agenda said only that the board would hold a special meeting to discuss its 2017 legislative agenda.

Emails informing reporters of the conference call went out early Monday morning, just hours before the 10 a.m. meeting.

State Board spokesman Blake Youde acknowledged the late notice to reporters, but said the meeting complied with the open meetings law. Notice of the meeting was posted on the State Board’s website late last week, he said.

On her blog, Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review said the meeting appeared to violate the open meetings law. State law allows agencies to hold a “special meeting” with 24 hours’ notice, she wrote, but only in an emergency. The open meetings law defines an emergency as “a situation involving injury or damage to persons or property, or immediate financial loss, or the likelihood of such injury, damage or loss.”

More reading: State Board considers crackdown on bad teacher evaluation data.