Virtual commission discusses draft of its report to the 88th Texas Legislature
School Finance Educator Preparation | Certification Texas Legislature Curriculum | Instruction Privatization | Vouchers
Date Posted: 12/01/2022 | Author: Mark Wiggins
The Texas Commission on Virtual Education met Wednesday, Nov. 30, in Austin to discuss a draft of the commission’s findings and recommendations for the upcoming 88th legislative session.
The commission was created in 2021 by House Bill (HB) 3643 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) and is required to submit a formal report to legislators by December 31, 2022. After eight public hearings, the board released a draft of its report that includes findings and recommendations for specific policy changes regarding virtual education when the 88th Texas Legislature convenes in January.
The recommendations include overhauling Chapter 30A of the Texas Education Code (TEC), which governs the Texas Virtual Schools Network (TxVSN), and establishing criteria for allowing more full-time virtual school programs to open in Texas. ATPE has consistently opposed expanding the number of full-time virtual school programs in the state due to the perpetually poor track record with student achievement demonstrated by these programs under the state’s accountability system.
The draft report also recommends removing guardrails from the major virtual education bill passed by the Legislature in 2021. Senate Bill (SB) 15 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) allowed a temporary expansion of full-time virtual programs at the district level. The commission’s draft includes offering full-time virtual programs to all children – even those as young as kindergarteners.
Regarding funding, the draft report suggests incentivizing school districts to establish virtual programs and paying for virtual programs based on enrollment, rather than attendance. This would give virtual programs a significant funding advantage over brick-and-mortar classrooms, which are presently funded based on attendance.
The draft from the commission recommends mandatory reporting to track the historical performance of virtual programs and requiring virtual program outcomes to be reported as a separate component of the host school district’s or local education agency’s (LEA) report card.
When it comes to educators, the draft recommends offering professional development and microcredentials for virtual instruction, as well as integrating virtual instruction into educator preparation program (EPP) curricular requirements. The draft notes that educators should not be coerced into virtual instructional settings or required to teach concurrently.
The conversation around virtual instruction has at times ventured into discussions about vouchers, especially with regard to initiatives aimed at diverting public funds away from local school districts toward private virtual programs outside of the public school system. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) echoed such concerns Wednesday, when he directed Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff to scrub the language of the report “to make certain there’s no voucher in it.” Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) interjected, arguing instead that staff should attempt to keep the report “agnostic” on the topic of vouchers.
The commission is scheduled to meet once more in December and vote on the final recommendations that will be presented to the incoming legislature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.
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