Why Texas parents are suing the state’s education agency

The parents of two Texas school children are suing the state’s education agency in a bid to secure unrestricted funding for virtual public schools.

The lawsuit is supported by the National Coalition for Public School Options and focuses on a law that Governor Greg Abbott signed last year at the height of the pandemic that allows limited use of online education.

Under this law, some public schools are allowed to set up online programs and receive state funding for students who have passed STAAR tests, good grades, and strong attendance records. The children in the lawsuit failed the standardized annual tests last year, so the school refused to re-enroll them, saying it would not be reimbursed by the state for their attendance.

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But the plaintiffs argue they should be allowed to attend the virtual programs even if they scored poorly on the tests. The fight is part of a larger political effort by some parents to wrest more control over what, where and how their children are taught.

More broadly, lawsuit supporters see the virtual programs as an opportunity to pressure Abbott and other Republicans who have backed so-called school choice policies, which include support for charter schools and taxpayer funding. private schools.

“It just shows that virtual schools are treated differently and those parents of virtual students are treated differently by not being able to re-enroll,” said Kristen Tyagi, the coalition’s executive director. “Parents are uniquely placed to make the best decision for their child.”

Last year’s virtual education law faced opposition from teacher groups, who said scores on standardized tests and other measures of student achievement were significantly lower for students. students taking virtual classes, as opposed to in-person classes. Proponents of the measure, including the Texas Association of School Administrators, don’t dispute it, but say schools should have the ability to offer classes online as well.

At a hearing on Thursday, officials representing the Texas Education Agency said schools can still enroll students who don’t meet the online course eligibility requirements, they simply won’t receive funding from the main funding pool. state funds to do so. About 14,000 children in Texas are currently attending online programs at schools that don’t receive this money, a witness with the agency said.

The concept of parental empowerment continues to be a powerful rallying tool for Republicans. The GOP and conservative activist groups have dominated many previously nonpartisan school board elections by tapping into parental anger over an agenda that explores race, racism and sexual orientation. Nationally, education has been a hot cultural issue for Republicans in battleground states like Virginia and Florida.

Abbott and other Republicans have hammered again and again that parents should be able to review what their children are learning in schools. This has sparked a wider and imminent debate about the prospect of creating state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.

With this lawsuit, the lawyers are testing to see if the concept will extend to virtual learning, an area that Republicans in the Texas Legislative Assembly were openly wary of, even in moving to pass the bill expanding these programs. .

“We tried to put guardrails on it,” Sen. Larry Taylor, a Republican from Houston who sponsored the bill, told the Senate last year. “We don’t want to continue programs that haven’t worked for most of our students. It is only for students who have done well in this environment and allowing them to continue this option.

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The attorneys behind the lawsuit called Abbott by name, saying he could order TEA to make the changes they seek and that it would be consistent with his policy positions. Failure to do so, they said, ensures that “only bureaucrats will decide what educational options are available to families.”

A spokeswoman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the plaintiff’s children has asthma and a heart condition that prevents him from attending in-person classes every day, according to the lawsuit. They said he tried an online program that required him to sit at the computer all day for real-time lessons and he lost his focus.

But thanks to a different virtual program that allowed him to do his homework at his own pace, his family say he has flourished.

“He was much more talkative about the classes he was taking,” his sister said in an interview. “It went from him mostly talking about how he was tired or not understanding things to asking questions about specific topics or areas he was invested in.”

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