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Texas Poised to Expand Virtual Education Through Online Network

Texas students' access to online courses from a variety of providers is poised to expand under legislation that has reached the desk of Gov. Rick Perry.

Currently, the list of entities who can provide courses through the Texas Virtual School Network, a statewide entity that offers a catalogue of online classes, includes school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, and Texas higher education institutions.

The legislation would broaden the list to include private companies, nonprofits, and out-of-state postsecondary institutions.

The legislation also clarifies the circumstances under which school districts can deny students the chance to take part in the network. Its language would appear to make it more difficult to reject students from taking online courses. Districts or schools could do so if the students were seeking to take a "substantially similar course," as is offered in the district.

At the same time, the legislation set a limit on the online courses that districts are required to pay for per student through the network, capping that number at three year-long classes.

More than 6,000 students were enrolled in the network's online courses, including dual-enrollment courses and high school classes through its statewide catalogue of classes, during the 2012-2013 school year, said Barbara Smith, an official with the organization. While she believes interest in online education is likely to to continue to grow, she said it was too early to predict how the legislation would affect enrollment, if Perry makes it law.

Courses offered through the network would still have to be approved by the Texas Education Agency, she said.

A spokeswoman for the governor, a Republican, declined to say whether he would sign the measure, but said Perry favors expanding student choices to learn through technology.

"The governor supports using all available resources, including technology, in order to give students more options and flexibility to graduate," spokeswoman Lucy Nashed wrote in an e-mail.

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