New Texas law expands virtual learning funding, if school districts meet requirements

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A new Texas law is offering up funding for school districts that want to or already have remote learning programs if its students have met certain previous learning benchmarks.

Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 15 into law last week. In order for a school to qualify, its students requesting to learn outside the classroom must have passed their STAAR exams, earned a C grade or higher in core curriculum courses and have no more than 10 percent unexcused absences the previous year. Additionally, online school can only be offered to 10 percent of the district’s overall enrollment.

Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT, said overall the law will expand virtual learning opportunities.

“Many of our school districts would not have had the ability to be able to offer families a virtual opportunity,” he said. “Without this funding, we had several of our largest school districts that were figuring out how to make it work with their ESSER funds.”

Brownsville ISD, for example, was not able to offer virtual learning until this law. A spokesperson for the district said about 3,600 students qualify, and so far nearly 2,500 have applied.

But Capo worries about the students who struggled with the chaotic STAAR exam from the 2020-21 school year, and now might not be able to receive state funding to learn online.

“There’s plenty of instances where kids may have below a C average or may not have done necessarily well on the test, were having a virtual learning opportunity may actually help catch them up,” he said. “Almost every district told families that the test wasn’t going to matter that they didn’t have to worry so much about it this year. And in fact, what did happen is it does matter a lot now. It may make the difference of whether your kid can actually have virtual education or not.”

Some districts like Austin ISD planned on offering online learning with or without supplemental state funding. If those students do meet the academic requirements, those state funds with help with their online learning.

Rebecca Jordan is one of the Austin ISD teachers with a class fully remote for the entire 2021-22 school year. She said she isn’t sure if passing or failing STAAR is the best measurement but thinks it’s appropriate to have some sort of standards to ensure a child’s success in online learning.

“I saw students that parents really wanted them to be virtual, but they just could not be successful. So I do think that having kind of an evaluation tool to see whether they would be successful in this program is important,” she said.

The law will fund virtual learning until September 2023, when lawmakers will reevaluate the issue.

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