Virtual Voucher bills are particularly insidious because they trade on the value of technology to shift public funds to private companies. Virtual voucher bills transfer funds from our public schools that serve ALL children to private vendors in an effort to create a statewide network of publicly funded private virtual schools. While no virtual voucher bills have yet been introduced in the 85th Texas Legislature, the Coalition for Public Schools opposes virtual vouchers for the following reasons:
- No “Choice” for public school districts – Past virtual vouchers removed any discretion on the part of public school districts to determine student need or select vendors. Some bills even subsidize private vendors providing the same course offered by a local neighborhood school, at public expense.
- Subsidizing home schooled and private school students – By allowing students to take online courses without ever having been enrolled in a public school district, many of these bills take public funds away from public schools to private for-profit vendors and forces them to act as a mere pass-through of public funds.
- No positive track record for virtual schools – Many of these bills divert public funds away from successful schools to full-time online learning which has been shown to be ineffective as an educational method. Recent research from the National Education Policy Center shows that virtual schools consistently lag far behind brick and mortar schools in graduation rates, Adequate Yearly Progress, and state performance rankings.
- No accountability –. Most virtual vouchers do not require vendors to adhere to any of the fiscal, curricular, or administrative oversight to which public schools, including public charter schools, are subject. Students in grades K-2 aren’t touched by state assessments which cover a narrow band of the curriculum and are not given at every grade level. How will these providers be held accountable?
Virtual Voucher Bills in the Regular Session of the 87th Texas Legislature
Senate Bill 27 (Taylor) – “Relating to the state virtual school network; changing a fee.”
This bill provides for an expansion of the Texas Virtual School Network (TXVSN) and the use of the network by independent school districts and charter schools. The Coalition for Public Schools considers this a bill with a voucher in it because it removes the requirement that a student must attended a public school the previous year to enrolling in the TSVSN. Additionally, this bill allows students the ability to enroll in schools outside of their attendance zone, setting up schools to poach students from one district to another and making it harder to ensure quality control.
Virtual Voucher Bills in the Regular Session of the 86th Texas Legislature
HB 429 (Shaheen) – Would have removed the prohibition from offering a virtual course when a district offers a substantially similar course. Would have removed the cap on the number of virtual courses that can be taken. We testified against this bill on April 16 (22:06) on behalf of the Coalition for Public Schools. The bill was left pending in committee.
SB 380 (Hall) – This bill would have removed the cap on the number of online courses that may be taken by a student. The Coalition for Public Schools registered opposition and delivered a letter to Senate members opposing this bill. The bill was left pending in committee.
SB 947 (Campbell) – This bill would have removed the requirement that students of those serving in the military must have previously attended a public school in order enroll in online virtual courses. The Coalition for Public schools registered opposition and delivered a letter to Senate members opposing this bill. The bill was left pending in committee.
SB 1455 (Taylor) – The introduced version of this bill essentially allowed the Commissioner of Education to grant a charter to a private vendor or private entity to operate a full-time virtual school, removed the substantially similar course prohibition, removed the requirement that students must have previously attended a traditional public school, and removed the cap on the number of virtual courses allowable. The committee substitute for the bill removed the charter grant provision but still retained the other provisions. The Coalition registered opposition and delivered a letter to Senate members opposing the bill. The bill passed the Senate and was referred to the House Public Education Committee. We testified against this bill on May 7 (44:16). The bill was left pending in committee.