Texas Senate Bill 15 & Remote Learning

The Texas House Public Education Committee passed SB 15 earlier this week.  This bill would allow schools to create programs for virtual learning, enabling some students to attend class via computer.  According to the draft bill, schools must qualify by earning at least a C on their most recent performance rating, and the remote program must include courses that culminate in a standardized test.

Criteria for students to qualify include that they must already be enrolled in public school, already have access to the in-person classes offered, and meet a minimum academic standard determined by their respective school district.  Additionally, only 10% of the district’s student body may be enrolled in virtual learning.  Districts or charter schools may contract with other districts or charters to provide virtual learning programs for interested and qualifying students if the district in question does not have its own remote program to offer.

Virtual programs would also receive performance ratings just as a physical campus does.  This is to ensure that students don’t slip through the many virtual cracks. Remember last year’s many empty black boxes on Zoom and astronomic student failure rates?

Virtual students would be included in a district’s average daily attendance and receive the same funding as an in-person student.  Districts must pay for remote programs themselves using the funding already received from pandemic relief packages.  The current bill is set to expire in 2023, ostensibly allowing for necessary changes to be made after new data is available from this school year.

Despite the bill’s advancement, virtual learning is largely to blame for much of last year’s learning loss across schools in the state.  Elementary school reading proficiency plummeted, and math proficiency overall also lowered dramatically according to TEA’s Mike Morath.  TEA’s data indicates that districts who maintained in-person classes last year had little to no decline in reading and only a moderate decline (9%) in math proficiency.  However, districts with large virtual learning programs saw a huge decline in math (31%) and a moderate decline in reading (7%).  Most Texas kids attended school virtually for at least some (if not all) of the previous school year.  In fact, only 34% of Texas students were in the classroom throughout most of last year.  This means that those startling numbers reflect two-thirds of the kids in Texas.

Regardless of the data on in-person versus virtual learning, COVID is still here.  Campuses and districts across the state are already knee-deep in temporary closures and forced quarantines, and it’s only August.  Virtual learning is clearly a necessity as we continue to cope with this pandemic.

Not to mention that some students actually do much better in remote settings, and we need to honor those kids and differentiate for them.  If public schools want to hang onto the enrollments they have and not lose more students to charters or homeschooling, they must make virtual programs available to help retain the children and their families who want it, whatever the reason.

Update: A last minute amendment – To receive funding, virtual students must take and pass all STAAR end of course exams and cannot opt out, pass the course, have no more than 10 unexcused absences.  If the student doesn’t meet all three requirements, the district won’t receive funding for that student.

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