Repeatedly — both before and after his election to a third term — Gov. Butch Otter’s praise for Idaho’s high school broadband system has focused on access.
The Idaho Education Network brings more classes into rural schools, he says, bringing the state that much closer to meeting its constitutional mandate to provide a uniform system of free public schools.
The state’s own numbers tell a very different story:
- From fall 2012 through spring 2014, 6,056 high school students took classes over the Idaho Education Network. But more than half of these students attended only five of the state’s 115 school districts: West Ada, Bonneville, Cassia County, Twin Falls and Weiser.
- This list of online education “hotspots” includes three large districts, including West Ada, the state’s largest district. But this fall, these districts accounted for about 18,700 ninth- through 12th-graders — or 22 percent of the state’s total. In other words, these districts’ online enrollment numbers are high, relative to overall enrollment.
- In the spring of 2014, only 34 districts provided online classes over the network, down from 50 in the fall of 2012.
- The districts not providing Idaho Education Network classes include four of the state’s 10 largest districts: Nampa, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Vallivue. But usage is also spotty in the state’s rural districts — those that most need online options to bolster curriculum. Only 13 of Idaho’s 50 smallest high school districts offered online courses in last spring.
The numbers, compiled by the network itself, were released a week ago, as part of a Legislative Services Office audit. The release comes at a pivotal juncture for the network. In the next few weeks, legislators will have to decide whether to spend another $8.9 million to keep the network online through June 30, 2016 — as Otter requested in his Jan. 12 budget request. And it comes as the embattled network is in turmoil, with its 2009 contract voided in a Boise district court, and with federally administered funding on hold amidst the legal battle.
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