AUSTIN – The Texas Public Policy Foundation sent a public letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath with recommendations for securing access to educational services through the Texas Virtual Schools Network during the COVID-19 Pandemic and its aftermath.
The letter includes the following highlights:
“Many Texas students are missing educational time that is key to their development as students, whether they are in their final year of high school preparing for college, or in the critical years of early literacy. The impact of this lost time for so many students may be felt for years to come if actions are not taken to ensure our children have the fullest possible access to educational material.
“Texans face a challenging task, and we are grateful for your tireless work and leadership. In a state the size of Texas, with more than a thousand individual school districts trying to do the right thing for their students and communities, addressing these problems will be bigger than just one solution. Empowering districts to weigh and meet the needs of their student communities will be critical.
“We believe that with decisive action, in keeping with the actions you have already taken, and a focus on ensuring every Texas student has access to high-quality education, the state of Texas can lead the way in reversing the negative effects of COVID-19 on our educational system.”
The letter also includes 10 recommendations to help secure educational access for Texas students during school closures:
- Lift the current moratorium on districts’ establishment of new online schools within the Texas Virtual Schools Network (TxVSN).
- Allow funding to go to courses beyond the “three-course limit” on student access to the statewide course catalog.
- Open virtual resources to all grade levels. Currently only high school students have access to the course catalog, and K-2 students are barred.
- Waive the provision allowing districts to deny statewide catalog course enrollment if the district provides a “substantially similar” course.
- Waive ADA requirements as necessary to allow HB3’s incentive for additional instructional days to cover students enrolling in virtual courses over the summer, up to the amount that would be provided for onsite courses.
- Revise the process by which courses are approved for the TxVSN. Place the responsibility for course approval in the hands of districts and/or approved third-party accreditors.
- Temporarily extend the timeline for required teacher professional development that could prohibit teachers from filling the gap in online course teachers.
- Direct a portion of available federal emergency education grant funding to modernize the TxVSN online systems.
- Waive the “prior-year public” requirement for full-time virtual education.
- Evaluate the course fee limit placed on Statewide Catalog courses and determine whether it is appropriately set for given subject areas (such as those that require lab kits, or other high-cost factors).