13_02 Public Comments on Proposed New 19 TAC Chapter 70, Subchapter AA

 

ATTACHMENT III

Summary of Public Comments and Agency Responses Related to Proposed New 19 TAC Chapter 70, Technology-Based Instruction, Subchapter AA, Commissioner's Rules Concerning the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN)

Comment: Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) suggested that the agency maintain and publish a list of approved private providers for the TxVSN Online Schools (OLS) program and drop providers from the approved list if performance standards are not consistently met.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and determined that the TEA does not have authority to approve private providers that partner with public school districts and charter schools to offer courses through the TxVSN.

Comment: RYHT stated that maintaining an established funding structure, where all funds flow through the school district, and not permitting public funds to be paid directly to private providers are consistent with current statute and RYHT recommendations.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has determined that all funds for courses completed through the TxVSN are paid directly to a school district or charter school in accordance with TEC, Chapter 42.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools stated that students attending a TxVSN online school are attending a full-time school required to provide services beyond single courses and should be funded in a comparable way to traditional schools with successful course completion reflected in the funding along with the other services provided to the student throughout the year. The commenters recommended adding a new section to read as follows, "§70.xxxx. Funding for a TxVSN Online School for Students Enrolled on a Full-Time Basis. (a) For students in grades 3-12, the TxVSN online school will earn funding according to the following conditions: (1) For a student who achieves successful program completion, 100% of the fully-weighted ADA earned by the student for the time he or she was enrolled in the TxVSN OLS. (2) For a student who was enrolled for more than ten days in an Academic Year but who fails to achieve successful program completion, 90% of the fully-weighted ADA earned by the student for the time he or she was enrolled in the TxVSN OLS. (3) For a student who was enrolled for ten or less day [sic], no funding is earned."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees. Current funding for TxVSN online schools is addressed in the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook. Additionally, the requirement for successful course completion is required by statute, TEC, §30A.153(a).

Comment: An online learning specialist stated that the proposed rules do not address credit recovery and other offerings through online learning platforms purchased and used by districts. The commenter recommended a committee be formed and decisions be made about standards that should be set for online credit recovery programs.

Agency Response: The agency provides the following clarification. The rules in 19 TAC Chapter 70, Subchapter AA, apply only to online courses offered through the TxVSN and not to computer assisted instructional programs or other distance learning courses.

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions stated that an alternative accountability system to measure schools that serve at-risk populations such as disciplinary alternative education programs, juvenile justice alternative education programs, residential facilities, and dropout recovery programs is needed.

Agency Response: This comment is outside of the scope of the proposed rulemaking.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended adding a definition to §70.1001 for "Successful TxVSN OLS 9-12 Program Completion." The commenters stated that a student taking courses through the statewide course catalog is different from a student enrolled in the TxVSN OLS program where funding is provided for all services, including guidance counselor and state testing administration. Funding and course completion for the TxVSN OLS program needs to be looked at in the context of a full-time school.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has determined that successful course completion for students taking high school courses is the same regardless of the component of the TxVSN in which the student is enrolled. In response to other comments, the agency has made other modifications to the definitions in §70.1001.

Comment: A TxVSN statewide course catalog provider district recommended adding to §70.1001(1) a description of blended learning models where school districts may provide opportunities during the school week for students to practice, work on projects, and receive individual tutoring support from the teacher of record. The commenter stated that research supports the benefits of blended learning models and a blended model made possible through a broadened definition of an electronic course could benefit a large number of students if a school district were to serve as both a TxVSN provider and receiver of the same course.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1001(1) as published as proposed. The language of the rule is consistent with that in statute, TEC, §30A.001(4).

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising the definition in proposed §70.1001(2) to read as follows, "Successful TxVSN Course Completion--The term that applies when a student taking a high school course through the TxVSN statewide course catalog has demonstrated academic proficiency of the content for a high school course and has earned a minimum passing grade of 70% or above on a 100-point scale, as assigned by the properly credentialed online teacher(s), sufficient to earn credit for the course." The commenters stated that the change is necessary to clearly define and distinguish between the TxVSN statewide course catalog and TxVSN OLS program.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1001(2), adopted as §70.1001(3). Successful course completion for students taking high school courses is the same regardless of the component of the TxVSN in which the student is enrolled.

Comment: The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) stated that §70.1001(2) as proposed does not specify how an end-of-course (EOC) exam is included in the course grade, if the course is one for which an EOC assessment is required. The commenter suggested that the rule should specify whether an EOC assessment score must be figured into the final course grade calculation for the purposes of defining successful completion and if the final course grade does include the EOC score, then the text reflecting that this grade is solely assigned by the online teacher should be changed to reflect that the enrolling district must also calculate the EOC into the grade assigned by the online teacher to determine whether credit will be awarded, which ultimately affects the funding that the district will be entitled to receive.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1001(2), adopted as §70.1001(3). For courses taken through the TxVSN statewide course catalog, the TxVSN receiver district is responsible for calculating the EOC score into the course grade according to local policy. For courses taken through the TxVSN OLS program, the online school is responsible for calculating the EOC score into the course grade.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying proposed §70.1001(3) to expand the TxVSN program to students in Kindergarten-Grade 2 instead of only Grades 3-8. The commenters stated that the change is consistent with legislative authorization to convey a virtual option to students in Kindergarten-Grade 2 as well as Grades 3-8 and would provide more options to families who need online school options for all their school-age children.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1001(3), adopted as §70.1001(4). TEC, §30A.151(f), specifies that a school district or charter school operating a TxVSN online school may receive funding for serving a grade level "at or above grade level three."

Comment: Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte pointed out that proposed §70.1001(4) states "the TxVSN is comprised of two components, the statewide course catalog and the online school program." The senator stated that if the intent of the Texas Education Agency is that §70.1023 applies both to the TxVSN online school and the TxVSN statewide course catalog, the language should read as follows, "All Texas public school students enrolled in courses through the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) are required to take the statewide assessments as required in the Texas Education Code, §39.023."

Agency Response: The agency agrees that the removal of the reference to courses would make the rule more clear and has modified §70.1023 to read as follows, "All Texas public school students enrolled in the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) are required to take the statewide assessments as required in the Texas Education Code, §39.023."

Comment: RYHT stated that the proposed rules are generally in alignment with current statute and the recommendations of RYHT, including that the agency maintain the administration and operation of virtual schools under the auspices of the Texas Virtual School Network as published as proposed in §70.1001(4) and §70.1003.

Agency Response: The agency agrees with the comment and has maintained the language as published as proposed.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying proposed §70.1001(5) to add the phrase "for the statewide catalog" because the functions listed in the proposed rule relate to the statewide course catalog and not to the TxVSN OLS program.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1001(5), adopted as §70.1001(6). TxVSN central operations performs many of the same functions for the TxVSN statewide course catalog and the TxVSN OLS program.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended combining proposed §70.1001(6) and (7) for clarity. The revised definition would read as follows, "TxVSN online school (TxVSN OLS)--A full-time, virtual instructional program that is made available through an approved and eligible provider district and is designed to serve students in Grades 3-12 who are not regularly physically present at a school facility."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1001(6) and (7), adopted as §70.1001(7) and (8). The TxVSN OLS program and a TxVSN online school are separate terms and should be defined separately. Additionally, statute defines an electronic course offered through the TxVSN as one in which a student "is not required to be located on the physical premises" of the school.

Comment: RYHT expressed support for §70.1001(7) as proposed, disallowing virtual schools from serving students below Grade 3 where state assessments are not administered.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and maintains the language in §70.1001(7), adopted as §70.1001(8).

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended adding the phrase "for the statewide catalog" to proposed §70.1001(9) because the functions listed relate to the statewide course catalog and not the TxVSN OLS program.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified the language of §70.1001(9), adopted as §70.1001(10), to read as follows, "TxVSN receiver district--A Texas public school district or charter school that has students enrolled in the school district or charter school who take one or more online courses through the TxVSN statewide course catalog."

Comment: The TASB stated that §70.1001(10) as proposed defines the TxVSN statewide catalog as a program for students in Grades 8-12, which conflicts with proposed §70.1017(b) and §70.1031(4)(D) that both refer to Grades 9-12 for TxVSN courses through the statewide course catalog. The commenter recommended clarifying under which circumstances a student in Grade 8 would be able to enroll.

Agency Response: The agency agrees that the language in §70.1001(10), adopted as §70.1001(11), was unclear and has modified the language to remove the phrase "for students in Grades 8-12."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools stated that the rules should be clear and avoid subjective phrases. The commenters recommended deleting from §70.1003(b) the phrase "and ensure high-quality education."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1003(b) as published as proposed. The language in §70.1003(b) is consistent with statute, TEC, §30A.051(a)(2)(A).

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1003(b) to delete "For audit purposes, participants must maintain documentation to support the requirements of the TxVSN program and any agreements." The commenters stated that language is not needed regarding the audit as the audit can be required as part of the rules, which it is.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1003(b) as published as proposed for clarity.

Comment: The superintendent of Guthrie Common School District recommended removing the inclusion of the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from §70.1005(a)(1)(F). The commenter stated that the Section 508 requirements are already onerous and expansive and that courses offered in the TxVSN will be well within the accessibility reach of any students who qualify and may wish to take the courses.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified §70.1005(a)(1)(F) to read as follows, "meet accessibility requirements established by the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, §508, and the TxVSN accessibility guidelines."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1005(a)(1)(F) to delete "TxVSN accessibility guidelines" because the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, §508, and the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines cover the special education accessibility requirements; therefore, the language is unnecessary.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has determined that the TxVSN accessibility guidelines are required to be addressed. In response to other comments, the agency modified §70.1005(a)(1)(F) to read as follows, "meet accessibility requirements established by the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, §508, and the TxVSN accessibility guidelines."

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions stated that, with the move into Java and other interactive methods used to enhance the student's experience, meeting the 100 percent Section 508-compliancy requirement in §70.1005(a)(1)(F) as proposed is very difficult to achieve for every course. The commenter stated that when a student needs specialized instruction, those needs are able to be addressed individually as required by law and asked that current technology be taken into account when addressing this issue in the rules.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has determined that the requirements of Section 508 are federally mandated. In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1005(a)(1)(F) to read as follows, "meet accessibility requirements established by the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, §508, and the TxVSN accessibility guidelines."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1005(a)(1)(G) to add the phrase "is scheduled to" and to modify §70.1011(e)(6) to replace "ensures that" with "shall be registered to." The commenters stated that providers can ensure that students have the opportunity to take the applicable assessment, but cannot ensure that each student will actually take the assessment.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(a)(1)(G) and §70.1011(e)(6) as published as proposed. The language is consistent with statute, TEC, §30A.110(b).

Comment: RYHT expressed concern regarding §70.1005(a)(1)(G) and §70.1011(e)(6), which address student assessment and the requirement that each assessment be supervised by a proctor rather than a trained and certified testing coordinator as currently required for all districts and charters. The commenter recommended that the agency authorize a trusted organization to administer state assessments to students enrolled in full-time online schools with the same security provisions that currently exist for traditional districts and open-enrollment charter schools.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(a)(1)(G) and §70.1011(e)(6) as published as proposed. As adopted, the rules require TxVSN online schools to meet all of the laws and rules applicable to a traditional school, including the security and administration requirements for state assessments.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1005(a)(2) to add the words "or interactive online" to hands-on laboratory investigations and field work. The commenters stated that students attending a fully virtual school should be able to take advantage of the high-quality and highly engaging science labs online that use appropriate scientific inquiry.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(a)(2) as published as proposed. The language is consistent with State Board of Education rule in 19 TAC Chapter 112, Subchapter C, relating to science.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1005(a)(4) to add the language "to revise and submit the course for approval." The commenters stated that it is critical that courses are approved the year prior to implementation, and that the inclusion of new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) would require an additional year of preparation to build, develop, and allow sufficient time to approve the course.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(a)(4) as published as proposed. The language is consistent with statute, TEC, §30A.104(b).

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended adding a new §70.1005(a)(6) to read as follows, "Updated courses: Previously approved courses may be updated if the provider district annually certifies the course meets standards." The commenters stated that provider districts overseeing a TxVSN online school should have the authority to certify course updates and the addition would allow Texas students to receive the most up-to-date courses.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has determined that a TxVSN provider district is not required to submit for review courses that have undergone minor updates or revisions. Additionally, §70.1005(b) as adopted allows a school district or charter school to apply to the commissioner for a waiver of the course review requirement if the district or charter school certifies that the courses they offer meet all of the requirements in rule.

Comment: The superintendent of Guthrie Common School District recommended eliminating the waiver provision in §70.1005(b). The commenter stated that circumventing the usual and customary review process with a waiver request seems to place undue burden on the agency and that there is already in place a complete and thorough course vetting process with an appropriate appeal process in place.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language as published as proposed. The waiver of course review requirements is one option available to school districts and charter schools that serve as TxVSN providers and does not place any additional burden on the agency. Additionally, this option provides flexibility and local control to school districts and charter schools that serve as TxVSN providers.

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions stated that as proposed the waiver process in §70.1005(b)(1) and (2) should be a standard operating procedure and not require a waiver. The commenter added that the course review process would be expected if the virtual school declines in academic rating, which would allow districts and charter schools to have the same process and procedure in place for both local and virtual campuses.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(b)(1) and (2) as published as proposed. The requirement that a course be reviewed is required in statute, TEC, §30A.105(a). TEC, §7.056, requires that a school campus or district must apply to the commissioner for a waiver of a statutory requirement.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools stated that terms defined in the §70.1001 should be used throughout the rules to avoid confusion. The commenters recommended modifying §70.1005(b) to replace the term "a Texas public school district or charter school" with "a Texas provider district."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(b) as published as proposed. The commissioner does not have authority to waive statutory requirements for institutions of higher education or regional education service centers.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1005(b) to add "the commissioner retains the right to revoke a waiver at any time based on student performance."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(b) as published as proposed. The agency has determined that the language as adopted provides TxVSN provider districts with clear criteria regarding the commissioner's ability to revoke a waiver of the course review requirements.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools stated that the language in §70.1005(b)(1) and (2) is confusing and recommended deleting it.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(b)(1) and (2) as published as proposed. The agency has determined that the language is necessary in order to hold TxVSN provider districts accountable for ensuring that courses offered through the TxVSN meet the requirements in §70.1005(a).

Comment: A TxVSN statewide course catalog provider district inquired if, in §70.1005(b), only current TxVSN providers would be eligible for the waiver of course review requirements or if entities that have never served as providers would be eligible as well.

Agency Response: The agency provides the following clarification. As adopted, §70.1005(b) allows any school district or charter school to apply to the commissioner for a waiver of the course review requirements if the district or charter school certifies that the courses they offer meet all of the requirements in rule. The commissioner does not have authority to waive statutory requirements for institutions of higher education or regional education service centers.

Comment: The Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) expressed opposition to proposed §70.1005(b), which allows school districts and charter schools to seek a waiver of the course review requirements. The commenter stated that particularly for charter schools, a higher percentage of which have been low-performing and for whom a strong curriculum is particularly important, there should be this level of content oversight with no waivers.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1005(b) as published as proposed. The waiver of course review requirements is one option available to school districts and charter schools that serve as TxVSN providers and provides flexibility and local control to school districts and charter schools that serve as TxVSN providers.

Comment: The TCTA requested further clarification on §70.1005(a)(1)(C), specifically how a course will be measured to ensure it is "equivalent in instructional rigor and scope to a course" that is 90 instructional days and meets the minimum length of a school day.

Agency Response: The agency provides the following clarification. The measure of the instructional rigor and scope of a course taught through the TxVSN is based on whether all of the TEKS for the course are addressed.

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions asked for clarification regarding whether §70.1007(a)(2) as proposed would apply to course catalog providers only and §70.1009 as proposed would apply to TxVSN online school providers.

Agency Response: In response to this and other comments, the agency has modified the language of §70.1007(a) to clarify that the eligibility criteria in that paragraph only apply to TxVSN statewide course catalog providers. Section 70.1009 addresses the eligibility criteria for TxVSN online schools.

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions asked that the use of "acceptance" in §70.1007(b)(2) as proposed be defined. The commenter stated that the definition is important because of the previous public school enrollment requirement and the number of steps it takes for virtual schools to ensure that a student is eligible to enroll.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified §70.1007(b)(2) to change "acceptance" to "enrollment" for clarification.

Comment: The director of continuing education at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin expressed concern with the maximum class size limit as proposed in §70.1007(b)(5). The commenter recommended that English courses keep a smaller cap since much of the scope and sequence of the syllabi requires subjective grading by way of the many essay writing projects required.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1007(b)(5) as published as proposed. TxVSN providers may impose stricter class size limits than those required by rule.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended deleting §70.1007(b)(5) and §70.1011(e)(12). The commenters stated that the provisions for a ratio takes away needed flexibility and is unnecessary because a school that has too many students will not have successful course completion and the state accountability metrics will be the consequence.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1007(b)(5) and §70.1011(e)(12) as published as proposed. The agency has determined that the rules provide sufficient flexibility to TxVSN provider districts and ensure a quality educational environment. Additionally, TEC, §25.112, addresses class size limits for Grades 3 and 4.

Comment: RYHT expressed concern that the proposed rules do not limit the expansion of grades served and students enrolled to online schools where academic and financial accountability standards are consistently met.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language as published as proposed. In order to align with traditional school processes and maintain local control, the TEA has not limited the expansion of grades served or number of students enrolled at TxVSN online schools. Like traditional schools, the TxVSN online schools must meet the standard academic and financial accountability standards.

Comment: RYHT expressed concern that there are no specific provisions in the proposed rules that require that timely information regarding the location, provider, enrollment area, grades served, number of students served, costs, and performance outcomes of the full-time online schools be provided to the public.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees. In order to align with traditional school processes and maintain local control, the TEA has not required this information be posted on TxVSN online school websites. Much of the information cited by the commenter is readily available on the individual school's website or the TEA website.

Comment: RYHT expressed support for the proposed rules in §70.1009 and §70.1023, which maintain current reporting and accountability requirements for virtual schools as are required for all other public schools in Texas and §70.1017(b), which maintains existing requirements for the successful completion of online courses in order to award full funding for virtual education.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and maintains the language as published as proposed. In response to other comments, the agency has made other modifications to §70.1023 to clarify that accountability requirements apply to both the TxVSN online school program and the TxVSN statewide course catalog.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended adding "Provider District" to the title of §70.1009 to read as follows, "Texas Virtual School Network Online School Provider District Eligibility." The commenters stated that the section should be for provider districts to be eligible to initially authorize a TxVSN online school. The commenters also suggested modifying §70.1009(a) to include the following phrase, "to be eligible to initially authorize a TxVSN online school, a TxVSN provider district shall" in order to be consistent with the recommendation to revise the title of §70.1009.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1009 as published as proposed. The language as adopted is sufficiently clear and applies only to TxVSN online schools and not to TxVSN statewide course catalog providers.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended deleting §70.1009(b) in its entirety. The commenters stated that the timeline is unrealistic and the commissioner has other authority to revoke the school in the event of noncompliance.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1009(b) as published as proposed. The rule as adopted ensures the quality and accountability of TxVSN online schools.

Comment: The TCTA recommended that §70.1009(b) should read that TEA "shall suspend a TxVSN Online School (OLS) program that no longer meets the requirements of subsection (a) of this section." The commenter stated that, with the exception of requiring acceptable performance, §70.1009 sets low bars to be cleared and are primarily process-based. The commenter further stated that there should be an assumption that these programs would be suspended if the school fails to meet these standards.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained §70.1009(b) as published as proposed. Section 70.1029 adequately addresses factors which may lead to the revocation of the right to participate as a TxVSN provider district.

Comment: RYHT expressed concern that proposed §70.1011(b) only requires notification to the agency for a district or charter school to open operation of a full-time online school. The commenter suggested that the previous application and approval process be reinstated and that the process ensure that a district or open-enrollment charter school proposing to operate an online school meets the accountability and fiscal standards stated in the proposed rules. The commenter also recommended that this process include a review of the contract between the district or charter school and the private provider.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(b) as published as proposed. In order to align with traditional school processes and maintain local control, the TEA will not have an application and approval process for schools wishing to operate a full-time TxVSN online school.

Comment: One TxVSN provider district and one community member expressed concern regarding the lack of quality control in §70.1011(b) as proposed, which allows any district or charter school to simply notify the TEA of their intention to serve students in full-time virtual instruction without clarifying standards.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(b) as published as proposed. As adopted, the rules allow the commissioner of education to revoke the right of participation in the TxVSN based on noncompliance with state or federal laws or poor student performance.

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions expressed support for §70.1011(b) as proposed and agreement with the change in terms of participation.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(b) as published as proposed.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising §70.1011(b) to read as follows, "a TxVSN online school shall, at least six months prior to the start of each academic year, receive approval of grade levels to be served and the total number of students to be served during that academic year from the TxVSN provider district. A TxVSN online school may not add grade levels after the start of the school year. The TxVSN provider district shall notify the Texas Education Agency (TEA) of the TxVSN online school's grade levels to be served and the total number of students to be served during that academic year." The commenters stated that the TxVSN provider district should be the entity to approve enrollment and notify the agency.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(b) as published as proposed. The rule as adopted requires only notification to the agency and not approval. Additionally, the TxVSN online school and the TxVSN provider district are the same entity.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising §70.1011(c) and (d) to replace "online school or a school district or charter school wishing to begin operating a TxVSN online school" with "TxVSN Provider District." The commenters stated that terms should be consistent and used throughout the proposed rules for clarity.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(c) and (d) as published as proposed. The TxVSN online school and the TxVSN provider district are the same entity. Additionally, the language "a school district or charter school wishing to begin operating a TxVSN online school" is necessary in order to include school districts or charter schools that are not yet operating as TxVSN online schools.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended deleting §70.1011(e)(1) as TxVSN online schools are different from in-person schools and many regulations simply do not apply. The commenters added that if it cannot be deleted then specific statute should be referenced that a TxVSN online school needs to follow.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained §70.1011(e)(1) as published as proposed. In order to align with traditional schools, TxVSN online schools are required to comply with all the same laws and rules except as stated otherwise in these rules.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising §70.1011(e)(8) to replace "make these records available to the TEA, upon request in the requested electronic format" with "make these records available to the TEA, upon request in the mutually agreeable electronic format." The commenters stated that this revision ensures the rule is flexible enough for the required documentation to change over time.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(e)(8) as published as proposed. The agency has determined that the language is sufficiently flexible to support change over time.

Comment: A TxVSN statewide course catalog provider district stated that §70.1011(e)(12) as proposed clarifies that the maximum class size for any section of online students in Grades 5-12 is 40; however, there is no clarification as to how many sections may be offered. The commenter recommended including definite guidelines for the number of sections allowed to ensure the quality of online learning.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(e)(12) as published as proposed. In order to align with traditional school processes and maintain local control, the TEA has not established a maximum number of sections a TxVSN provider may offer.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended clarifying the language in §70.1011(e)(13)(A) to read "all required fiscal documentation." The commenters stated that the TxVSN already carries heavy documentation burdens and only statutorily prescribed documentation should be required through these rules.

Agency Response: The agency agrees that the language regarding fiscal documentation was vague. The agency has modified §70.1011(e)(13)(A) to read as follows, "the same financial documentation that is required of a traditional campus and documentation sufficient to demonstrate successful course completion."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools stated that the word "detailed" is subjective and recommended deleting the word from §70.1011(e)(13)(B) and (C).

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(e)(13)(B) and (C). The rule as adopted ensures that sufficient documentation is maintained by the TxVSN online school in order to document compliance with law and rule.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising §70.1011(e)(14) to read as follows, "require contractors to comply with the record retention requirements for federal and state programs as mandated by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission." The commenters stated that the change is needed to clearly define what is required by the rules.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1011(e)(14) as published as proposed. The rule as adopted ensures that sufficient documentation is maintained by the TxVSN online school in order to document compliance with law and rule.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools stated that consistent terms should be used throughout the rules for clarity and recommended replacing "school districts and charter schools serving as TxVSN online schools" with "TxVSN online school" in §70.1011(f) and (g).

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified the language in §70.1011(f) and (g) to delete the words "School districts and charter schools serving as."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising §70.1011(f)(3) and §70.1011(g)(3)(C) to change "reimburse" to "subsidize or reimburse." The commenters stated that the proposed revision is needed to be consistent with current practice.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified §70.1011(f)(3) to replace the word "reimburse" with "subsidize or reimburse." Additionally, the agency modified §70.1011(g)(3)(C) to replace the word "reimbursement" with "subsidy or reimbursement."

Comment: A parent inquired about the minimum number of courses in which a student must enroll and receive instruction through a Texas public school, including online programs offered by Texas Tech University or The University of Texas at Austin, in order to meet the full-time eligibility requirement proposed in §70.1013.

Agency Response: The agency provides the following clarification. The minimum number of courses in which a student must enroll in a public school in order to be eligible for full-time enrollment in the TxVSN would be determined by the enrolling school. In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1013(b)(1) to read, "the student was enrolled in a public school in this state in the preceding school year," in alignment with statute.

Comment: RYHT recommended that student enrollment eligibility requirements be maintained as proposed in §70.1013(b) and that public funds not be diverted to virtual education for access by private and home-schooled students.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees that the student enrollment requirements be maintained as published as proposed. The agency has determined that the rule must align with statute, TEC, §30A.002(b)(1). The agency has modified §70.1013(b)(1) to read as follows, "the student was enrolled in a public school in this state in the preceding school year."

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions asked that the term "grading period" in §70.1013(b) as proposed be defined because it is unclear if the term refers to the grading period time frame of the TxVSN online school or of the sending school.

Agency Response: The agency provides the following clarification. To align the rule with statute, TEC, §30A.002(b)(1), the agency has modified §70.1013(b)(1) to remove the language referring to one full grading period.

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions stated that §70.1013(b) as proposed is stricter than the Texas Education Code and recommended revising the requirement to only require enrollment, not a certain period of time for enrollment, as it is onerous on the receiving school to collect information in a timely fashion.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has determined that the rule must align with statute, TEC, §30A.002(b)(1). The agency has modified §70.1013(b)(1) to read as follows, "the student was enrolled in a public school in this state in the preceding school year."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended deleting §70.1013(b)(1). The commenters stated that the requirements for student eligibility under §70.1013(a) should be the only requirements for eligibility. The commenters added that if §70.1013(b)(1) is not deleted it should be revised to read "student meets the requirements in (a)."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees. The requirement that a student is eligible to enroll full time in courses offered through the TxVSN only if the student was enrolled in a public school in the preceding school year is required in statute, TEC, §30A.002(b)(1). In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1013(b)(1) to read as follows, "the student was enrolled in a public school in this state in the preceding school year."

Comment: The TCTA recommended that in §70.1013(b)(1) the term "one full grading period" should be clarified to be enrolled in a full semester the previous school year and that a summer session not be adequate to meet this standard.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees with the recommendation to require enrollment for a full semester during the previous school year. In response to other comments and to align with statute, TEC, §30A.002(b)(1), the agency has modified §70.1013(b)(1) to remove the requirement that a student be enrolled for at least one full grading period in the preceding school year.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools stated that the language in §70.1013(b)(3)(B) is unnecessary for students enrolling in the TxVSN OLS program as they could have been previously enrolled in Grades 3-8. The commenters recommended deleting the language in its entirety.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained §70.1013(b)(3)(B) as published as proposed. The language in this rule is consistent with statute, TEC, §30A.002(c)(2).

Comment: A parent stated that the student eligibility requirement for the TxVSN OLS program creates an unfair barrier for students who have been home schooled or who have been unable to attend public school due to health problems. The parent recommended adding §70.1013(b)(4)(A) to read as follows, "the student was enrolled in TxVSN in a prior school year" and §70.1013(b)(4)(B) to read as follows, "the student is unable to attend traditional school due to a special circumstance (e.g., medical or other family circumstance which parents determine TxVSN is the best education setting for a Texas Student Resident)."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees with the suggested language and has determined that the requirement that a student is eligible to enroll full time in courses provided through the state virtual school network only if the student was enrolled in a public school in this state in the preceding school year is required by statute, TEC, §30A.002(b)(1). In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1013(b)(1) to read as follows, "the student was enrolled in a public school in this state in the preceding school year."

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions stated that it is problematic to confirm and document in a timely manner the requirement that a student has been enrolled in a Texas public school the previous year, what high school course(s) have been completed by the student, and which special education designations apply to the student. The commenter recommended an enrollment form and process that would allow provisional enrollment for the student with final enrollment contingent upon the parent or guardian submitting the necessary documents that confirm the required enrollment information within a certain number of days.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and added new §70.1013(c) to read as follows, "If a student has not provided required evidence of eligibility to enroll, a TxVSN online school may: (1) enroll a student provisionally for ten school days; and (2) withdraw the student from the online school if the student does not provide the required evidence of eligibility within ten school days of the provisional enrollment." The agency has also added new §70.1013(d) to read as follows, "Upon enrolling a student provisionally, the TxVSN online school shall notify the student and the student's parents or guardians that the student will be withdrawn if documentation is not provided within the required timeframe."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1015(a)(1) and (2) to add "or OLS" to include both part-time and full-time programs.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1015(a)(1) and (2) as published as proposed. The language in §70.1015(a) sufficiently addresses both the TxVSN statewide course catalog and the TxVSN OLS program.

Comment: The TASB stated that §70.1015(b)(4) as proposed requires that the grade assigned by the TxVSN teacher be added to the student's transcript by the student's home district, which could allow a TxVSN teacher to assign a student's final grade without considering the state's requirement that an end-of-course exam account for 15% of a student's final course grade. This is significant because a district's grading policy could calculate final course grades in a different manner than a TxVSN teacher. The commenter recommended clarifying that the home district will include on the student's transcript a grade that reflects the grade assigned by the TxVSN teacher and, when applicable, the EOC assessment.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1015(b)(4) as published as proposed. For courses taken through the TxVSN statewide course catalog, the TxVSN receiver district is responsible for calculating the EOC score into the course grade according to local policy. For courses taken through the TxVSN OLS program, the online school is responsible for calculating the EOC score into the course grade.

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions stated that, while in support of the pay for performance model in §70.1017 as proposed, it is unclear how weighted funding, especially federal funds such as special education dollars, can flow through the pay for performance model and still follow the federal guidelines that do not flow through pay for performance. The commenter asked for an explanation of the funding structure or a redefinition of the flow of federal weighted funds.

Agency Response: The agency provides the following clarification. The term "weighted funding" in §70.1017 refers to state funds, not federal funds. Federal weighted funding flows to the local school district or charter that operates the TxVSN online school and not to the TxVSN online school itself.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising §70.1017(b) to change "any weighted funding" to "the full weighted funding." The commenters also recommended adding the following sentence, "For federal program purposes only, a TxVSN OLS will be considered an LEA and be eligible to receive funding for the student it enrolls." The commenters stated that the recommended revisions will allow federal dollars intended for enrolled students, such as Title I and IDEA-B, to flow to the TxVSN OLS.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1017(b) as published as proposed. The term "weighted funding" in §70.1017 refers to state funds, not federal funds. Federal weighted funding flows to the local school district or charter that operates the TxVSN online school and not to the TxVSN online school itself.

Comment: RYHT stated that §70.1019 seems to allow institutions of higher learning to operate full-time TxVSN online schools. The commenter expressed concern that there may be issues with how these institutions comply with the reporting and accountability requirements and evaluations required for traditional districts and open-enrollment charters.

Agency Response: As adopted, the rules allow an institution of higher education to serve as a TxVSN provider district; however, §70.1009 requires that to be eligible to serve as a TxVSN online school, a school district or charter school must meet certain criteria related to accountability, accreditation, and other statutory requirements that do not apply to an institution of higher education. In response to this and other comments, the agency has modified the language of §70.1007 to clarify that the eligibility criteria only apply to TxVSN statewide course catalog providers.

Comment: RYHT expressed support for §70.1021 as proposed, which would prevent private virtual providers from issuing high school diplomas. The commenter stated that the host district or charter school should issue the high school diploma to students who have met all state requirements for graduation.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and maintains the language as published as proposed.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended modifying §70.1023(b) to specify "school districts and charter schools participating in the TxVSN Online school (OLS) program" for clarity.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified §70.1023(b) to read as follows, "All school districts and charter schools participating in the TxVSN Online School (OLS) program are included in the state's academic accountability system."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended replacing the language "a school district or charter school" in §70.1025(a) with "a TxVSN provider district" for clarity.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has determined that the language of §70.1025(a) is consistent with that in statute, TEC, §30A.155(a). In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1025 to reorganize the language for clarity and to distinguish between course cost and fees.

Comment: The TASB stated that §70.1025(a)-(c) is unclear. The commenter recommended that the agency define "fee" and "nominal fee" either in §70.1001 or §70.1025 and clarify whether, under §70.1025(a), a district may charge a student a "nominal fee" in addition to the "fee." The commenter stated that the TxVSN web site refers to the "fee" (the cost of providing the course, or $400, whichever is less) as the "course cost" for clarity.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified §70.1025 to reorganize the language for clarity and to distinguish between course cost and fees.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended adding the language "For students enrolled part-time," to §70.1025(c). The commenters stated that "with the addition of the section on funding for full-time students, this language pertains only to students who are taking courses part-time that do not have other school services attached to it such as administrators, state testing or guidance counselors."

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has determined that the section title of §70.1025 provides sufficient clarity regarding fees that may be charged. The rules regarding funding for students in the TxVSN OLS program are addressed in the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook. In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1025 to reorganize the language for clarity and to distinguish between course cost and fees.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended deleting the language "the lesser of the cost of providing the course or" from §70.1025(c)(2). The commenters stated that as proposed, the requirement would be hard to determine except by an audit or "agreed upon procedures" conducted by an independent third party, and could vary each month.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language of §70.1025(c)(2), adopted as §70.1025(a). The rule is consistent with that in statute, TEC, §30A.155(c).

Comment: The Center for Distance Education at The University of Texas at Arlington expressed concern regarding §70.1027 as proposed. The commenter stated that the rule will introduce standards not widely known or used in higher education and does not respect the professional development and extensive online teaching experience of the higher education faculty and distance education staff who offer the online courses under TxVSN in adherence with postsecondary and national education standards.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1027 as published as proposed. The agency determined that the professional development requirements are not inconsistent with higher education professional development requirements or postsecondary and national education standards. The rules as adopted require TxVSN teachers to meet one of the following three criteria: (1) successfully complete a professional development course or program approved by TxVSN central operations, (2) have a graduate degree in online or distance learning and have demonstrated mastery of the International Association for K-12 Learning (iNACOL) National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, or (3) have documented experience of two or more years teaching online courses for students in Grades 3-12 and mastery of the (iNACOL) National Standards for Quality Online Teaching. Additionally, TxVSN teachers must complete one professional development course specific to online learning every three years. The training to satisfy this requirement is determined locally. In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1027(a)(1)(A) to clarify that a teacher must meet one of the three criteria in §70.1027(a)(1)(A)-(C).

Comment: One TxVSN statewide course catalog provider and one TxVSN online school recommended the addition of the word "or" at the end of §70.1027(a)(1)(A) to clarify that only one of the requirements for educators of electronic courses in §70.1027(a)(1)(A)-(C) must be met.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified §70.1027(a)(1)(A) to clarify that a teacher must meet one of the following three criteria: successful completion of a professional development course approved by TxVSN central operations, or of a graduate degree in online or distance learning and mastery of the (iNACOL) National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, or documented experience of two or more years teaching online courses for students in Grades 3-12 and mastery of the (iNACOL) National Standards for Quality Online Teaching.

Comment: Three TxVSN online schools recommended that §70.1027(a)(1)(A) be revised to allow teachers to begin teaching prior to the completion of the professional development course as was previously allowed. The commenter recommended the completion of the professional development in the first semester or year that the teacher is employed, but stated that the recommendation would enable districts to fill openings as needed and in the event that they become available after the start of the school year.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1027(a)(1)(A) requiring a teacher of an electronic course through the TxVSN to successfully complete the professional development course prior to teaching the electronic course. This requirement is mandated by statute, TEC §30A.111(a)(2). In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1027(a)(1)(A) to clarify that a teacher must meet one of the three criteria in §70.1027(a)(1)(A)-(C).

Comment: Responsive Education Solutions expressed support for the flexibility provided in §70.1027(a)(2) for districts to find the most appropriate and relevant training to meet the needs of its virtual teachers.

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has maintained the language in §70.1027(a)(2) as published as proposed.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended changing §70.1027(a)(2) to read as follows, "must complete at least 20 hours of professional development specific to online learning annually." The commenters stated that the recommended language is a higher requirement than the requirement of the rule as proposed.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained §70.1027(a)(2) as published as proposed. A local district or charter school may implement requirements stricter than those in rule.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended combining §70.1027(d)(1)(A) and (B) to read as follows, "by the end of the first year of teaching, successful initial completion of TxVSN-approved professional development that meets the iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, evidence of prior online teaching, or a graduate degree in online or distance learning...." The commenters stated that the recommendation reflects the language TEA previously provided for TxVSN OLS.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained §70.1027(d)(1)(A) and (B) as published as proposed. As adopted, this rule requires districts to maintain records documenting completion of professional development requirements. The suggested language does not substantively alter the requirement.

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended revising §70.1029 to read as follows, "the commissioner of education may revoke the right to participation in the Texas Virtual School Network (TxVSN) based on any of the following factors after providing a reasonable period to cure any documented noncompliance." The commenters stated that it is important to give a full-time school time to solve participation and performance standards problems before revocation of their right to participate in the TxVSN.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained the language in §70.1029 as published as proposed. The agency has determined that the rules are necessary to address low performance and to maintain a quality educational environment.

Comment: Texas Senator Van de Putte stated that §70.1029 permits the commissioner of education to revoke the right to participation in the TxVSN based on consistently poor student performance rates and campus accountability ratings. The senator asked what would happen if the campus has horrible student performance on assessments, which presumably results in poor campus accountability ratings, but also has acceptable "completion" or "successful completion" rates. The senator stated that the use of the word "and" in §70.1029(3) indicates that the commissioner of education would not have authority to revoke participation under this scenario.

Agency Response: The agency agrees that the word "and" implies a different meaning from that which was intended and has modified §70.1029(3) to read as follows, "consistently poor student performance rates as evidenced by results on statewide student assessments, student withdrawal rates, student completion rates, successful completion rates, or campus accountability ratings."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended deleting §70.1029(3). The commenters stated that the requirement is already built into accountability ratings, which lead up to a school's closure.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has determined that the language is necessary to provide clarification regarding conditions under which the right to participate in the TxVSN can be revoked. In response to other comments, the agency has modified §70.1029(3) to read as follows, "consistently poor student performance rates as evidenced by results on statewide student assessments, student withdrawal rates, student completion rates, successful completion rates, or campus accountability ratings."

Comment: Two TxVSN online schools recommended deleting §70.1031(4)(B) and (D). The commenters stated that PEIMS is used between districts and the TEA; therefore, it is not necessary to identify this information on a public website that parents and students use. The commenters added that §70.1031(4)(D) requires providing an immense amount of information, which would undermine the effectiveness of disclosure.

Agency Response: The agency disagrees and has maintained §70.1031(4)(B) and (D) as published as proposed. The agency has determined that in order to maintain standard course references across schools it is important to identify PEIMS course titles and numbers. The agency further determined that a course syllabus or a course overview is important information for parents to have in order to make informed choices.

Comment: The TASB stated that §70.1035(e)(3) as proposed requires that a school district or charter school immediately enroll a student in an electronic course if the commissioner determines that a student was unreasonably denied the opportunity to enroll in the course, but does not consider that the providing entity may no longer allow enrollment in the course if the enrollment window has passed. The commenter recommended adding the language "or a similar course in accordance with the enrollment windows established by the provider."

Agency Response: The agency agrees and has modified §70.1035(e)(3) to read as follows, "If the commissioner determines that a student was unreasonably denied the opportunity to enroll in an electronic course, the school district or charter school shall immediately enroll the student in the electronic course or a similar course in accordance with the enrollment windows established by the provider."


For more information, email rules@tea.state.tx.us.

Page last modified on 2/13/2013 10:44:32 AM.