11 Hits and Misses for Families from this Year’s Texas Legislature

Capitol-buildingThe results of the recent legislative session for this group or that seem to be everywhere in the news, so how about a look at what happened this session for families?

True, the governor called lawmakers back to work pretty much immediately when legislators tried to adjourn for the year. But, since most of the day-to-day business that affects families is done, let’s do an early report. Texas took some really good steps to help us parent-types and the young-ish, small-ish people around us. So without further ado and in no particular order, here are 11 legislative hits and misses for Texas kids and families. (I’ve included some links to past posts of the issues, so you can see how far our state has come.)

  1. Women’s preventive health care restored.
    After gutting funding for family planning and women’s preventive health services like pap smears and mammograms in 2011, this Texas legislature quietly restored those services.
  2. Autism screenings for tots OKed.
    A bill requiring insurers to cover screenings for autism early in childhood passed. Before now, many insurers only covered autism services that come after a child’s diagnosed.
  3. High-stakes testing reined in.
    Signed into law this week was HB 5, which reduces the number of high-stakes tests required of high-school kids. It used to be 15 tests; soon it will be five. (In other test-related news, a good measure of kids’ fitness and a resource that helps schools know how their youngest students are doing both were protected this legislative session.)
  4. Schools get more support (but probably not enough).
    Yes, a lot of the $5 billion that was slashed from public education in 2011 got put back in the new budget for our state. That’s the good news. But when you think about the fact that it was closer to $4 billion, not five, and think about that there are more kids in schools now than then, and think about that the state is getting sued over having no good plan for financing schools and think about that lawmakers just passed still more tax cuts for businesses this legislative session, which will inevitably cut into money available for schools . . . well, maybe just don’t think about it.
  5. Daycare gets a boost.
    You’ve probably seen a news report at some point about horrendous day care—or maybe you’ve seen such a place up close. Many of these place serve the poorest kids, but a new law sponsored by Austin’s own Rep. Strama that was a priority for early education folks sets a higher bar on centers like these and gives incentives to the places that give good care.
  6. Breakfast for everyone!
    If your child attends a school where 80% or more of kids qualify for free or reduced-price meals, a new Texas law will require every child in the school receive a free breakfast. It doesn’t cost any extra money (the food gets made in bulk either way), but it does mean more kids start their day with a healthy meal.
  7. Major mental health milestones.
    After the Newtown tragedy, lawmakers got tired of Texas ranking at the very bottom for mental health. They invested a whole lot of new resources into mental health services and passed some key bills to get schools to address mental health for children. Teachers will soon have more training in how to work with kids coping with a mental health problem, too.
  8. Health care solution-less.
    Perhaps the biggest letdown of the legislative session was the death of a bill that would have provided health insurance for about a million working Texans (again at no added cost to Texas, due to health reform). These folks—whose struggles we’ve shared on this blog—will stay uninsured next year because lawmakers rejected a chance to help them out.
  9. Families facing a heart-breaking choice get a better one.
    A front-page story in the Austin American-Statesman recently investigated the experience of families with severely challenged kids, who face having to choose between turning their child over to CPS or leaving that child without therapy or services he or she really needs. We’ve shared stories like this here before, too, and are happy to report help’s on the way, thanks to a new law that passed and needed funding in the budget to help keep more families intact.
  10. More of the positive and less of the punitive coming to Texas schools.
    The option to write criminal tickets to kids for routine misbehavior, like putting on perfume in class or chewing gum (yes, really, this is a trend!), is officially a thing of the past, due to bills that passed. What’s more, educators are going to be able to get training in how to create more positive environments at school instead.
  11. Sugary drinks dried up.
    Most Texas youth have sugary drinks like soda every single day, and about a third of teens here drink an average of three of these “liquid candies” daily–the equivalent of consuming a 2-pound bag of sugar each week. A new law will help parents keep the stuff away from more kids by banning the sale of sugary drinks at public middle schools and junior highs during school hours.

For those of you who picked up the phone to call a lawmaker, signed a petition, or otherwise made your voice heard, thank you for your part in the victories that came for kids and families! My organization Texans Care for Children will have a full recap of the session and more of the good (and not so good) news for kids soon, and I’ll post an update when the link is out.

What else happened this year in the legislature that made an impression on you? Any big disappointments for kids and families that we missed? Let us know in the comments

P.S. Until Sunday, the governor can still veto some of the bills described here. We’ll post an update in the comments next week if anything gets nixed.

Christine Sinatra is the communications director for Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit that works to improve Texas kids’ lives through policy change. She is the mom to a kindergartener and has worked as a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and the Oakland Tribune company and as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching high school girls in Africa.
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