Bill to Fund Virtual Learning Option Advance
AUSTIN, Texas – School districts across the state are hoping state funding for virtual learning may be on its way soon.
Currently, districts that offer an e-learning option pay for the programs out of pocket. The Texas Legislature failed to pass a bill to fund distance learning during the regular legislative session.
As the delta variant causes an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state and country, parents are increasingly concerned about their children returning to school in person.
“I have been in a hospital room where I don’t know if my child is going to wake up,” said Meghen Hiller, parent of Austin ISD.
Hiller’s three children all have health conditions that put them at high risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19, and they are also too young to be vaccinated. For them, virtual learning this year was the only option.
“Obviously I wish I could send my kids back to school… but I think that’s just one of those things where we had to weigh the health implications against the educational implications. And in our case, health won out, ”Hiller said.
Austin ISD is one of several school districts offering a virtual option for students this semester and paying for it out of pocket.
“All of our schools have been challenged by the experience of the past 18 months. Virtual learning is certainly not for all students, but the option is one that we know students, parents and districts want in appropriate cases, ”said Rep. Keith Bell, R-Forney.
The Texas House Public Education Committee on Tuesday pushed state funding for virtual learning a step closer to the governor’s office, voting 9-1 to advance a bill that would provide funding for the ‘Status on the program until fall 2023.
In the bill, only school districts that receive a C grade or higher from the state can offer a virtual option, and only up to 10% of their enrolled students can participate. The bill also requires regular assessments for distance learning students, after lawmakers expressed concerns about the quality of virtual learning and the loss of student learning.
“Reading skills in elementary and high school are actually worse than they have ever been since the dawn of the STAAR test. So… we’ve lost about a decade of academic gains, ”said Mike Morath, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency.
Supporters of the bill say they also intend to provide retroactive funding to school districts currently offering a virtual learning option.
The Dallas ISD superintendent previously estimated that if about 9,000 of its students choose to learn virtually this year, the district will lose about $ 100 million in public funding if this bill is not passed.
At Austin ISD, 3,000 students registered for virtual learning this semester, costing the district approximately $ 12 million.
“We are using the federal stimulus funds that we have received to cover it,” said Jacob Reach, director of government relations and board services at Austin ISD. “If we could receive funding from the state, we would be able to move these funds from the federal funds that we have to some of our other needs that will benefit the entire district.”
Hiller hopes the legislature votes to approve the bipartisan bill before the special session ends, so Austin ISD doesn’t take a financial hit.
“I don’t understand why, you know, the district would be penalized for taking care of its students,” Hiller said. “So I really hope they fund it, and AISD is not left out because they ‘I did a really good thing that has helped a lot of families.