Texas children face high rates of poverty, health risk and educational inequality, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities’ recently released State of Texas Children report.
There’s a good chance none of that is news to you, and the Austin-based public interest group’s previous editions of that annual report haven’t exactly prompted Texas lawmakers to fix the systematic issues at the root of those problems.
But that could change when the next legislature convenes in January, said Luis Figueroa, CPPP’s legislative and policy director. Even though the GOP remains in control of both houses, Democratic gains could give the group more leverage as it lobbies on children’s issues.
“I certainly look at every session as a new opportunity, but I feel this session is open to a whole array of new ideas,” Figueroa said. “We’re gearing up and we think we’re in a better environment to have these discussions.”
To be sure, there’s plenty to address.
One in five Texas children live in poverty, according to CPPP’s report. And even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, 9 percent remain uninsured.
When it comes to education, the state has over the past 10 years slashed 21 percent of the per-student funding for programs designed to help kids graduate. And with the majority of school funding now derived from local property taxes, those in poorer districts face significant disadvantages to children in wealthier ones.
Likely incoming House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said he considers school funding the Lege’s top 2019 priority — potentially good news when it comes to remedying such equity issues. But Figueroa cautions that lawmakers’ concern about rising property taxes could end up making problems worse.
“Our concern is that by mixing the issues of tax relief and school funding, we may end up sacrificing one for the other,” he said. “We’re pushing for a plan that’s equitable, increases the state’s share and moves toward more equitable outcomes.”
Although not a sure bet, the risk of losing more seats in 2020 could moderate some Republican lawmakers and lead to a more cooperative session, Trinity University political science professor David Crockett said.
“On areas of mutual interest, you could see some compromise,” he said. “Funding education is one of those areas that will require working with Democrats.”
Other Ways to Help
Broad education reform isn’t the only route to a positive change for Texas children, though. Better pay for workers, expanded healthcare access and a statewide, all-day pre-Kindergarten program are among the report’s other suggestions.
The latter option, which has proven popular in San Antonio, may even get a lift from leaders of both parties, Figueroa said, pointing to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s verbal support for pre-K.
CPPP also plans to lobby lawmakers to establish a committee to ensure all Texans are counted in the 2020 Census, which helps determine how federal dollars are distributed in impoverished communities. Some 30 percent of kids under 5 live in communities at risk of being undercounted, according to the group’s report.
CPPP spokeswoman Amanda Gonzalez points to bipartisan gubernatorial support for so-called Complete Count Committees in the leadup to previous Census years. Republican George Bush was the most recent Texas Governor to approve one.
“That’s something else Texas could do,” Gonzalez said. “Other states are already setting up similar committees and starting campaigns to fund them.”
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