Texas House Advances Virtual School Expansion Beyond COVID-19

On Friday night, the House voted 115-3 to advance a bill to expand virtual learning programs for Texas schools beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill – contested by teacher groups but supported by administrators – attempts to strike a delicate balance by opening up virtual learning more, but not too much. Teachers and administrators face pressure from both sides as some parents demand more virtual options for their children, while others insist that their children only receive in-person instruction.

“We understand that virtual learning is not for all children, but we have heard many parents asking for the option,” Rep. Keith Bell, a Republican from Forney who sponsored the bill, told the floor of the House.

A small number of virtual-only schools have existed in Texas for more than a decade, and schools were allowed to receive state funding for their virtual classrooms last year under an emergency order from the United States. Governor Greg Abbott, but he did not extend that ordinance to this school year.

Abbott has also refused to allow schools to adopt mask warrants, although the Texas Supreme Court allows districts to do so, on a temporary basis. It could end at any time as the High Court, whose nine judges are all Republicans, considers the matter.

The bill passed on Friday creates a new avenue for schools to access state funding for online programs in the future, without touching the previous system. Schools would receive state funding for their virtual classrooms, although this caps these programs at 10 percent of students in a district. State Education Commissioner Mike Morath, appointed by Abbott, has the option of lifting that cap. Parents who wish to send their children to school in person have the right to do so.

The legislation also places other safeguards on the virtual curriculum, asserting that teachers cannot be forced to teach both in person and in virtual lessons, and that teachers who are assigned virtual lessons must accept these assignments in writing.

The House will have to vote on the bill once more to send it to the Senate, where it was passed earlier in this special session.

Teacher groups opposing the bill say that since there is already a process to enable e-learning, the state does not need a new law to expand it. They point out that research shows most children do less well with virtual-only lessons, but supporters of the bill argue that a few do better online and that more flexibility will give students and their parents. more options.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge and unprecedented experience for virtual learning, as many teachers across the state have tried to figure out on the fly how to do their jobs without holding classes in person.

This has caused problems: There is a gap in performance on standardized tests between students who attended school more in person last year and those who did not, especially in math, Monty said. Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, who opposes the bill.

Experts and academics also fear that distance learning alone could have adverse social and emotional effects on children who are unable to interact with their peers.

“We recognize that students are best served in brick and mortar facilities, period,” said Colby Nichols, lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Administrators, which supports the bill. “But this is the 21st century. Some students do well in virtual environments, and public schools must have the capacity to serve students as parents see fit.

“Frankly, this is something that families in our neighborhoods are asking for. “

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Perry A. Thomasson