The Texas Public Policy Foundation applauds the passage of HB 1468, a crucial bill that would increase the flexibility and choices for parents, teachers, and students statewide, choices that are sorely needed in the Texas school system. Amendments to this important piece of legislation from the Senate Education Committee have only served to strengthen the bill, including K-12 students and asynchronous learning options, further increasing the number of education options for students and their families. However, there is still some room for improvement, changes that would increase the level of flexibility and educational freedom that this legislation has already made significant strides in providing.
Necessary changes to HB1468 that would expand access to virtual education options must start with allowing students to access remote programs outside of their geographic area, a policy granted under Texas Education Agency (TEA) waivers for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. As written, this legislation would allow for greater access to remote programs, but limits choices by requiring that every student have “reasonable access to in-person services” to enroll in a local remote program. Students have had and should continue to have the flexibility to choose their own remote learning going forward. Furthermore, HB1468 currently leaves in place the virtual enrollment cap at 10 percent of school overall enrollment, a move that will greatly reduce opportunities for students. This requirement does not solve any problem; it limits access to virtual education program while providing no mechanism to ensure quality virtual instruction. Currently, there are several districts where more than 10% of their students want to learn virtually–parents and students should be given that flexibility to make their own choice.
“A year ago, virtual education was a niche offering in Texas public education, serving fewer than 1% of Texas students. However, the past year’s pandemic-related closures have plunged the nation and state into an extended experiment in emergency remote education,” said Emily Sass, policy director for TPPF’s Next Generation Texas campaign. “The Texas Legislature now has an opportunity to update state policy on virtual and hybrid education to encourage a more robust, resilient education landscape that both empowers districts to create programs that serve the needs of their students and empowers students with the ability to select the virtual offerings that will meet their needs.”