State Board holds off on approving enrollment rule

POCATELLO — The State Board of Education rejected a proposed rule aimed at changing the way Idaho schools report enrollment, but  board members still hope to gather more input and reconsider a potentially revised rule this fall.

The decision came Thursday during a regular board meeting at Idaho State University. All but two board members, Don Soltman and Richard Westerberg, voted to reject the rule as-is.

State Board President Debbie Critchfield stressed the need to gather more stakeholder feedback before moving forward with a rule change.

“This is highly important to gathering information on the funding formula,” Critchfield said.

Enrollment reporting is important because it could shape the way Idaho carves up future state funds for K-12. The Legislature has spent over three years studying ways to replace its current attendance-based funding model with one rooted in enrollment. But bills aimed at adopting a new model divided educators and lawmakers last legislative session.

The Legislature ultimately failed to rewrite the funding formula last session, and lawmakers tasked the State Board with developing new rules that “set forth the procedures for determining student enrollment counts by school, school district, and statewide, and the process for reporting such counts.”

Thursday’s proposed rule met that criteria by breaking down basic units of enrollment into minutes students spend in class.

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The breakdown: 1,200 minutes of coursework per week equals one basic unit of state funding.

State Board chief planning and policy officer Tracie Bent spent time meeting with State Department of Education officials and educators last school year. She said the diminutive breakdown stemmed largely from the freedom granted to school districts and charter schools to set their own schedules. Because some Idaho students enroll in different schools — with vastly different scheduling frameworks — a minute-by-minute breakdown would provide flexibility needed to provide fractionalized funding units in a fair way.

“It’s a complex task,” Bent said.

Critchfield said additional time will help staff gather input from more stakeholders.

“What our board sends to the Legislature needs to be a top quality rule that reflects full participation,” Critchfield said, adding that the board’s “inaction” on the rule “was not due to disinterest.”

“It’s actually the opposite,” Critchfield said.

Approval of Thursday’s proposal would have triggered a public comment period that would have opened with the publication of the Administrative Rules Bulletin in October. State Board officials would have been able to monitor public comments and any changes would have been baked into a pending enrollment rule that would go back to the State Board, likely in November.

Thursday’s decision grants State Boards staff more time to gather stakeholder input and bring a new rule back to the board this fall.

This time the rule would be “temporary,” which means, if approved, its enrollment reporting requirements would go into immediate effect for school districts and charter schools.

The Legislature, Critchfield said, will again have a chance to determine if those requirements should serve as the basis of a new school funding model.

“And that’s the way we want it to be,” Critchfield said.

More from Thursday’s meeting

The State Board approved on Thursday a temporary and proposed rule that supporters say is designed to increase the number of Idahoans who are eligible to apply for the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship.

According to the State Board, the rule would:

  • Decrease the GPA requirement from 3.0 to 2.7 for all students.
  • Enable adult learners who maintained a GPA of 2.5 before stopping out to apply for the scholarship, so long as they maintain a 2.7 GPA after they return to school.
  • Require adult learners to have stopped out for a minimum of two years, except in the case of adult learners who took a maximum of two courses during that time.
  • Allow adult learners who receive the scholarship to return to school on a part-time basis.
  • Require scholarship recipients to show progress on their educational plans in order to maintain eligibility for the scholarship.

The popular Idaho Opportunity Scholarship is a need- and merit-based renewable scholarship that provides recipients up to $3,500 per year. Students must attend an eligible Idaho college or university to receive the scholarship.

Thus far, the state has not been able to keep up with demand for the scholarship. Earlier this year, Idaho EdNews reported there was a waitlist of approximately 4,500 students who met the scholarship’s eligibility criteria but have not received an award.

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this report.

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