More money coming to schools for tech courses that let students start building careers

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Millions of dollars in additional funding is coming to Central Texas school districts this year to help pay for equipment and other resources in technology classes.

Round Rock Independent School District estimates they’ll bring in an additional $7 million from the state for tech app courses after the legislature changed the way it funds the career-based classrooms.

The money will help support students like Kritika Dhakal, a senior at McNeil High School who wants to be a computer scientist.

On Thursday, Dhakal worked alongside her classmates to write a specific type of Java code. She’s learning the basics now to get a jump start on her future career.

“It’s going to set a path, so whenever you go to college, you don’t have to learn the introductory stuff, you can just move on the more rigid courses,” Dhakal said.

Classes like this are very popular in Round Rock ISD, said Jeff Uselman, the district’s director of instructional technology.

“In the area that we’re at, a lot of our parents are working in the high tech industries,” he said. “They know that the computer science skills are very important.”

The additional funds will mean new equipment, more teacher development, more field trips and site visits and possibly even new classes, he said.

KXAN first reported on the district’s lobbying efforts to focus more money on these courses in December. Administrators asked lawmakers to treat tech apps courses like they treat career and technical education (CTE) classes, and for the most part, that’s what they did.

CTE classes like auto mechanics, welding and other hands-on classes, require a lot of equipment and additional training, so the state provides “weighted funding” for those courses. For every $1 that a district gets per student, the state tacks on an additional 35 cents for each CTE class to help cover costs.

RRISD and other districts argued that since tech apps courses demand similar investments in equipment and training, they should be funded the same way.

Lawmakers made the change for this school year in House Bill 3, the wide-ranging $11.6 billion plan that’s allowed districts to pay teachers more, expand pre-K classes and cut taxes.

“We’ve already started working with teachers. They’ve started making their lists of the things that they need,” said Sheri Bonds, CTE director at Round Rock ISD. “It’s actually been exciting because teachers are dreaming and wondering about what they can get.”

Before the change, school districts could offer certain tech courses, like cybersecurity, under the CTE banner to earn weighted funding, but that meant students could not take Advanced Placement exams to get college credit. Now, by offering the classes through tech apps programming, districts don’t have to make that choice.

Some middle school tech apps and CTE classes are also now eligible for weighted funding, but only those that qualify students for high school credit.

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