Time Ran Out on Virtual School Funding Bill in Texas Legislature, Schofield Says

By George Slaughter

State Rep. Mike Schofield (photo courtesy Mike Schofield)

Time ran out on the Texas Legislature passing a virtual school funding bill, state Rep. Mike Schofield said Friday.

Schofield, R-Houston, has a district that includes much of the Katy area. He said a virtual school funding bill passed the Senate, but had not reached the House as time ran out on the legislative session.

The Texas Legislature meets in regular session for 140 days every two years.

Schofield said this year’s session got off to a slow start for two reasons. First, the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic affected everyone’s ability to meet at the start of the session. Second, the power outages caused by the February winter storm put things further behind schedule.

Gov. Greg Abbott has the authority to call a special session, which can last up to 30 days. The governor sets the agenda for a special session. While Abbott has not called one, Schofield said he anticipated at least one, possibly two, special sessions this year. Schofield said many legislators whose bills failed to pass in the regular session will want Abbott to put their bill on the special session agenda.

Whether a virtual education funding bill will be on the agenda remains to be seen.

“He hasn’t tipped his hand,” Schofield said, adding that there’s a good chance that election reform, federal spending for COVID-19 relief, and education relief will likely be addressed.

“He has made it pretty clear that he expects us to come back on issues other than redistricting,” Schofield said. “Other than that, it’s hard to tell what the governor will put on the call. There’s a growing feeling it could be one of those issues.”

The Katy Independent School District Board of Trustees in April surveyed parents about their interest in seeing a virtual high school established. The virtual high school would be a stand-alone, tuition-free option for those students wishing to pursue their studies online. The district said it received more than 1,200 survey responses showing interest. Last month, trustees voted to proceed with developing the virtual high school.

The legislature’s failure to provide funding compelled the district to announce it would not offer a virtual high school.

The district said it continues to offer supplemental paid online courses through its Katy Virtual School. The virtual school is for students interested in pursuing online coursework outside of the regular school day. The district also encouraged families to visit its Summer Enrichment Activities website for other summer activities.

Both the virtual school and the proposed virtual high school are different from the Katy Virtual Academy, which the district created to provide online learning during the pandemic when businesses and public facilities were closed.

In pre-pandemic times, Schofield said, a typical virtual learning situation would involve one or two children in selected classes offered online through another district with such capabilities. But things changed last spring when the pandemic took hold.

“One day we’re in class, the next day we’re shut down,” Schofield said. “We proved it’s technologically possible to put everyone online, but it doesn’t mean that everyone is set up for it and ready to do it.”

One part of the virtual school funding issue concerns how funding is determined. Historically, Schofield said, attendance determined funding.

“Until COVID-19 started, if children didn’t show up, you didn’t get funded,” Schofield said. “We’ve learned that you can educate the students if they’re not in class physically. We must figure out how to change to accommodate the new technology.”

Schofield said the goal is to get every student the education their parents think will work best for them.