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Senate Education Committee discusses virtual school expansion

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Texas Legislature Curriculum | Instruction Deregulation | Charter Schools School Safety

Date Posted: 3/15/2023 | Author: Mark Wiggins

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday, March 15, to consider nine bills, including a proposal to lift the moratorium on full-time virtual schools in Texas, deemed by the Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member organization, to be a virtual voucher.

Senate Bill (SB) 1068 by Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) would end the moratorium on new full-time virtual schools and allow a school district to pay the Texas Education Agency (TEA) a one-time fee to establish a new full-time online program. ATPE opposed SB 1068 as it has opposed similar bills in the past. Current state law limits full-time virtual programs to those that were operating in 2013.  

The vast majority of the roughly 38,000 Texas students in full-time virtual programs are currently served by one of two national for-profit virtual curriculum providers. Approximately 61% are being served by Texas Online Preparatory and Texas Virtual Academy, which rely on curriculum from Virginia-based Stride K12. Another 27% are served by Texas Connections Academy, which relies on curriculum from the London-based Pearson.  

All three programs have been plagued by subpar, if not failing accountability ratings. Texas Online Preparatory Elementary School was rated improvement required in 2017-18, a D rating in 2018-19, and a failing score in 2021-22.  

ATPE has maintained the position that full-time virtual schools in Texas should not be expanded while the state’s largest operators continue to fail students. Eliminating the moratorium on full-time virtual programs would enable such failure to be replicated on an even larger scale. 

The Senate Education Committee was originally scheduled to hear SB 1861 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), which would also end the moratorium and enact sweeping changes to virtual education, including some of the recommendations of the Texas Commission on Virtual Education. Bettencourt pulled SB 1861 from the agenda late Tuesday to undergo further study and revision. Committee Chair Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) said he intends to bring up SB 1861 at the next committee meeting. 

The committee also heard the following bills: 

  • SB 562 by Sen. Kevin Sparks (R-Midland), which would require a threat assessment team to notify a parent before their student is assessed. The bill would require an opportunity for the parent to participate in the assessment or submit information regarding the student. The team would be required to provide their findings and conclusions to the parent. Sparks submitted a committee substitute for the bill that would clarify that the team must make a “good faith effort” to provide the opportunity for parents to participate in the assessment. ATPE supports this bill. 
  • SB 113 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), which would allow a school district to contract with a local mental health authority to provide mental health services. The bill would allow schools to enroll as a Medicaid provider and receive federal reimbursement for the provision of mental health services. Menendez submitted a committee substitute that adds parental consent, gives schools the option to contract with a community-based provider instead of a local mental health authority, and grants leeway in where a child may be referred. ATPE supports this bill. 
  • SB 838 by Creighton, which would allow school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to provide panic alert devices in classrooms. ATPE supports this bill. 
  • SB 992 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), which would establish a Rural Pathway Excellent Partnership (R-PEP) to offer college and career pathways in rural areas. The program would be managed by a charter school that has been granted a charter by each partnering district. The bill includes a funding allotment and an outcomes-based bonus.  
  • SB 1008 by Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), which would extend the window for a military-connected student to establish residency from 10 days to 90 days after arrival.  
  • SB 1144 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would require that before expelling a student, a school district must consider the appropriateness and feasibility of enrolling a student in a full-time virtual education program through the state virtual school network as an alternative to expulsion.  
  • SB 2032 by Creighton, which would create an alternative authorization pathway for adult high school charter school programs.  

The committee is scheduled to meet again Thursday morning to consider bills related to higher education that have been approved by the Higher Education Subcommittee. 


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