The Senate Education Committee Friday approved changes to oversight for the Idaho Education Network (IEN), a program designed to expand high-speed Internet access in public schools and allow high school students to take a wider array of classes. The changes were part of the decision by lawmakers to approve funding for IEN March 25.
“There has been a lot of concern over the Idaho Education Network,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. He said the changes to the board that monitors IEN, the Idaho Education Network Program and Resources Advisory Council (IPRAC), would change the culture of the program. The changes would shift control of IPRAC and IEN from the Department of Administration to the superintendent of public instruction and give IPRAC more administrative power over IEN. The Department of Administration has faced criticism from lawmakers for the handling of IEN, and a lawsuit from a company that lost out on a service contract for IEN.
Six of the 13 members on the reshaped IPRAC would be legislators. Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, raised concerns that the makeup of the new board could violate the state constitution’s separation of powers. “More and more the line between the legislative branch and the executive branch is getting blurred in Idaho,” Kelly said. “That raises a concern for me.”
Jason Hancock, the chief deputy for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, said the lawmakers on IPRAC would have some power usually reserved for the executive branch. “They are being given executive functions here,” he said. “There is real decision-making authority.”
“There needed to be the separation, and yet there needed to be strong oversight at this point,” Mortimer told Kelly. He added that the other seven members of the council overseeing IEN could trump the votes of the six legislators. Mortimer added that having a diverse makeup of the council is good for the program. “They all have a common interest, in my opinion, in making sure that the IEN and the education process is successful.”
The proposal to shift oversight for IEN and the next year of IEN funding next face a full Senate vote. It passed the House Friday.