Senate Bill 15 may fall short of covering virtual learning expenses based on requirements

Texas

LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — A Central Texas school district has some concerns that a recent school funding bill won’t cover all virtual learning expenses based on its lengthy list of requirements.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 15 into law last week.

The bill would pay for students who are learning remotely, but in order for a district to qualify, it has to check a lengthy list of requirements.

For many parents, the virtual learning option has been a saving grace.

“My girls found out two days before school was supposed to start that they got into the program for the virtual learning,” said Jessica Linder, Leander ISD Parent.

Jessica Linder’s Leander ISD students are immunocompromised. The decision to learn virtually was crucial for her family as COVID-19 has hit them hard over the past 18-months.

“It hits different for us when we have had to bury people,” said Linder. “When we haven’t been able to attend funerals because of the pandemic. My cousin is currently in the ICU in Victoria, Texas. She is a mother of two and she is fighting for her life.”

Linder’s children join the more than 1,500 or four percent of Leander ISD students to enroll in the virtual program. Some of them are eligible to get funding from the state.

“We are grateful that we have a funding mechanism from the state,” said Leander ISD Spokesperson Matt Mitchell. “It also carries a great deal of analysis.”

Leander has already found that anywhere from 100 to 300 of virtual students may not meet the SB15 requirements. In order to qualify, students had to have passed the STAAR exam, earned a C grade or higher in core curriculum courses and have no more than 10% unexcused absences the previous year.

Additionally, online school can only be offered to 10% of the district’s overall enrollment.

“That being said, there will be a gap and we will have to see what that number is when everything shakes out,” said Matt Mitchell.

It’s a funding gap that could still cost the district money. They are also qualifications that Linder’s students may not meet. Her son didn’t take the STAAR test this year.

“My son has a learning impairment. He needs a lot of one-on-one attention. I also wasn’t going to send him back to campus to take it,” said Linder.

Leander says regardless of how it shakes out, if there’s a continued need for virtual learning, then the district will do its best to provide it.

“We still aren’t exactly sure what the funding criteria will be for the next school year,” said Mitchell.

Leander ISD is still calculating how much it will cost to fund virtual learning for students.

The district allocated $6 million out of the fund balance and also received funds from the federal ESSER funds which were used to pay staff and for other equipment needs.

SB15 would fund virtual learning until September 2023, when lawmakers will reevaluate the issue.

Round Rock ISD currently has about 4,722 students enrolled in its virtual learning program which is right at that 10% threshold.

A district spokesperson told KXAN that the total cost of Round Rock’s virtual learning program is about $15 million which should be covered by SB15 funding.

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