How did kids fare in Texas’ legislative session? Advocates list of wins, losses

Here’s 5 takeaways on what lawmakers did — and didn’t do — for children, according to some groups.

Texas’ whirlwind legislative session placed education in the limelight this year, but some child advocates aren’t satisfied with what they called lawmakers’ missed opportunities.

If Children at Risk President Bob Sanborn could give the Legislature a grade based on what policymakers did for children and their families, he’d give them a D-plus. Maybe a D-minus.

Lawmakers failed “to address the needs of most children and families,” he said.


The Texas-based children’s nonprofit held a virtual conversation on Thursday to discuss what advocates called the wins and disappointments of the Legislature’s recent regular session, which ended in May.

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Close to a quarter — or nearly 7.5 million — of Texans are under 18 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent estimates.

With a record-high budget surplus of nearly $33 billion, education advocates wanted lawmakers to invest in public education. School leaders detailed struggles with rising costs, getting children up to speed after pandemic-related learning losses and teacher turnover.


Some advocates hoped for investments in efforts to fight human trafficking, improve and increase mental health services and more support for low-income families.

Here are five highlights from the legislative debrief:

Investment in Texas public education halted

“Historic investments in schools and educators” failed to make it out of the Legislature after a bill “fell hostage” to the culture wars, said Paige Duggins-Clay, chief legal analyst at the Intercultural Development Research Association, a nonprofit that focuses on policy analysis and advocates for public education.


“It’s not just that we are facing a historic teacher shortage,” Duggins-Clay said. “The needs of our students are greater than ever. The cost of running a school is greater.”

An effort aimed at funneling more money to public schools and providing for teacher pay raises was stifled after the Senate attached education savings accounts to it. House members didn’t pass the measure because they feared any voucher-like program would take money away from public schools.

Passing education savings accounts — which would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars for private school tuition — was a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans this legislative session. Abbott is expected to call lawmakers back to Austin in the coming months for a special session to deliver such measures.

Abbott and Republican leaders in the Senate have pushed for a school choice plan to combat public schools’ “woke” agenda and to help families out of failing campuses. They say parents should have the power to choose their child’s educational setting.

Small win for child care

Texas lost roughly 20% of its child care providers since 2019, according to Mandi Kimball, vice president of Children at Risk.


The pandemic hit the child care industry hard. Enrollment dropped because of long lockdowns, and child care centers were forced to slash expenses and furlough or lay off employees. Meanwhile, fixed costs, such as rent, continued to balloon.

Many centers closed their doors, and the industry still hasn’t recovered, officials have said.

Now nearly half of Texans live in a child care desert, meaning the area doesn’t have enough licensed providers, according to the Center for American Progress.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, successfully championed legislation that provides licensed child care providers some relief from increasing property taxes.


This will allow providers to save money that can then be used to reduce child care costs for families or increase compensation for educators, said Kim Kofron, Children at Risk’s director of early childhood education.

Effort to help students missing school fails

A proposal to include chronically absent students as at risk of dropping out of school failed to make it out of the Senate.

The measure would have defined chronic absenteeism as a student who misses 10% or more of instructional time within an academic year. It also would have required the Texas Education Agency to collect and report data regarding such students.


Before 2020, chronic absenteeism rates in Texas were about 12.5%, and such students are seven times more likely to drop out, according to an analysis of the bill.

Supporters of the effort wanted the data collected on such students to figure out what leads to chronic absenteeism to develop better ways to support such children and their schools.

“We really hope that this will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session,” Kimball said.

Lifting barriers for students with children

Although it differs at each state university, most schools offer opportunities to register for classes early, such as if a student is a campus worker, athlete or veteran.


Soon Texas college students who are also parents will have such perks. Starting in September, they can register for classes before peers to secure schedules that better align with the hours they have access to child care.

The legislation, carried by Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, aims to help such students stay in college and graduate.

The legislation was among those carried by Paxton that she called “human dignity” bills. Giving parenting students registration priority helps reduce a barrier and can help them stay in college and graduate, according to Paxton’s campaign site.

Unlicensed chaplains in schools instead of counselors

Religious chaplains can soon fill roles of school counselors despite not being licensed for such work.


Supporters of the new law said the move was in response to districts’ need for more licensed counselors and giving schools every tool possible to support students’ mental health. But critics say it is part of Republicans’ efforts to inject Christianity into Texas’ classrooms.

The child advocates worry about chaplains’ ability to support students, provide mental health support or academic counseling and connect those in need to resources in the community.

“While I’m sure there are excellent folks out there who want to engage in this work for the right reason, this is a misguided policy,” Duggins-Clay said.


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