With a full plate of controversial bills to go, Texas House committee OKs funding for virtual learning

A Texas elementary school student works on a laptop. Credit: Erich Schlegel for USA Today Network via REUTERS

With a quorum restored and legislation moving in the Texas House again, GOP lawmakers are hoping to push through a wide array of education-related bills in the next two weeks, covering issues from priorities of the socially conservative wing of the party to restoring funding so schools can offer online learning during the pandemic.

A slew of bills were sent to the Texas House Public Education Committee ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, covering funds for virtual learning funding, a decision on “critical race theory” in schools, treatment of transgender athletes, pro- and anti-masking rules, notifications to parents of positive COVID-19 cases in their children’s schools, and requiring schools to teach and adopt policies regarding child abuse.

The Senate has already tackled most items on the governor’s special session agenda and now it’s the House that must work before the session ends in about two weeks.

At the heart of the discussion in Tuesday’s hearing — as it has been since the school year started — was virtual learning funding. On a 9-1 vote, the committee passed Senate Bill 15, which would provide that funding, with some limits.

A bill that would’ve established and expanded virtual learning this fall died in the regular session after Texas House Democrats walked out to prevent passage of a GOP-backed elections bill that would outlaw local voting options, among several other changes.

Those against the long-term establishment of virtual learning say that students learn best in classrooms and cite declining STAAR scores during the period of virtual learning during the pandemic. Those in favor say it gives families options, especially for students who excelled in virtual learning last year and those with medical issues.

SB 15 is touted as a measure with enough guardrails to make sure students succeed and to help those who might fall through the cracks. The bill would pay for virtual learning until September 2023 and give local school districts and charter schools the autonomy to set up their own virtual learning programs. Lawmakers set the fall 2023 date to allow them to revisit the issue during their next regular session.

Written by BRIAN LOPEZ

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