Q: Some parents in our district remain interested in remote learning and have asked what virtual options will be available for their students next year. Did I hear correctly that Governor Abbott signed a bill into law funding virtual learning during the 2022-2023 school year?
A: Yes. Governor Abbott executed SB 15, which amends several provisions of the Texas Education Code to allow school districts to offer remote learning programs and obtain attendance funding from the state during the 2022-2023 school year. A district must meet several eligibility and operational criteria, however, before implementing its program and receiving attendance funding.
Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 15 into law on September 9, 2021 following the second special session of the Texas Legislature. The bill amends Chapters 21, 25, 39, and 48 of the Texas Education Code, which collectively allows public school districts the opportunity to offer a remote learning program (RLP) to interested students and receive funding based on average daily attendance (ADA). Multiple eligibility and operational requirements exist, however, which limit this opportunity. Also notable is that SB 15 does not require school districts to provide remote instruction. RLP particulars include:
- Only those school districts that earned an overall performance rating of “C” or greater for the previous school year (or the most recent year where TEA rated the district) may operate a full-time RLP and offer remote courses outside the state’s virtual school network.
- For such a district to be eligible to receive ADA-funding for its RLP, the district’s program must: (1) involve at least one grade level where the STAAR assessment is required to be administered including each subject for which the STAAR test is administered; or (2) involve a complete high school program including each course where an end-of-course assessment is required to be administered.
- Funding eligibility for RLP requires that a school district provide its students with the option to select in-person instruction for any remote courses offered.
- A district cannot enroll more than ten percent (10%) of the total number of students enrolled in the district or school during the 2021-2022 school year into its RLP, absent permission from the Commissioner upon application or in response to a public health emergency. This ten percent (10%) figure includes those students who spent or will spend at least half of their instructional time during this or next school year enrolled in virtual courses or receiving remote instruction because the student is “medically fragile,” placed in a virtual setting by an ARD committee, or receiving Section 504 accommodations.
- Not all interested students may enroll in a school district’s RLP. A school district may receive ADA-funding only for RLP “eligible” students. A student is considered eligible to enroll and be counted in the district’s RLP courses if the student:
- is enrolled in the school district;
- has reasonable access to in-person services for the course at a district facility; and
- does not accrue ten (10) or more absences in a six-month period.
- School districts are empowered to create additional student eligibility requirements as necessary to meet the ten percent (10%) student enrollment threshold.
- The bill requires a school district to assess its virtual students’ performance periodically.
- The school district must administer STAAR or end-of-course assessments to students enrolled in virtual courses in the same manner as the district administers exams to in-person students.
- Once enrolled in an RLP, a school district may only remove students from its virtual courses if it creates and implements a process to ensure that each student and the student’s parent or guardian “has sufficient notice and opportunity to provide input before the student is removed from those courses.”
SB 15 became effective immediately upon Governor Abbott’s signature on September 9, 2021. Still, TEA is continually updating information and material regarding school districts’ compliance with the bill as we continue to face challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Such information and material from TEA regarding SB 15 and Remote Learning is available on the Agency’s website here. Please consult with your local school attorney if you have more specific questions or seek additional information about SB 15 and its requirements affecting ADA-funding.