For immediate release
Wins include new mental health prevention efforts; Setbacks include vetoed sugary-drinks bill
AUSTIN - Two years after the Texas Legislature gutted funding for schools and services that benefit children, state leaders opted to partially restore resources for schools and to improve investments in maternal health, child abuse prevention, early childhood services and mental health, an assessment out today from Texans Care for Children shows. The legislative session and special session brought wins for children--including good laws that will improve child care for some poor children, provide more kids with a healthy breakfast and train teachers to respond to students with mental health concerns.
"Overall, this was a good, not great, legislative session for children," said Eileen Garcia, chief executive officer for the statewide children's advocacy group. "Lawmakers passed important bills and made vital investments for kids, but--even with more than enough resources on hand to undo the devastating 2011 cuts--lawmakers chose not to fully restore services for kids or to keep up with growth in the population."
Accomplishments for kids and their families from the 83rdTexas legislature included:
- Restored preventive health services for thousands of women, plus services for babies and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities: Preventive health care for women and early childhood intervention (ECI) both lead to healthier babies, but these services met substantial funding cuts in 2011. Fortunately, the new budget adds $100 million in women's preventive care funding and funnels $32 million in previously foregone federal resources to a new entity, the Women's Health and Family Planning Association of Texas. Children under 3 with developmental delays and disabilities receiving ECI services will be able to receive more of the services they need, too, thanks to a $4 million bump in the budget.
- Historic improvements to address children's mental health: In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, lawmakers advanced several measures to address children's mental health, including a smart investment of $5 million for mental health prevention and early identification in schools. Services for kids with serious mental illnesses will also expand, thanks to new measures that help kids whose families struggle to afford treatment and therapy for them.
- Reduced ticketing and other measures to make discipline on campuses more effective: Texas continues to move away from policies in schools that can lead kids into the juvenile justice system. New laws all but eliminate the practice of writing criminal tickets to students during the school day for minor offenses.
- Reinvestments in child abuse prevention, foster care and casework:In 2011, proven-effective prevention services were cut by 44 percent, but the 83rdTexas Legislature wisely restored tens of millions of dollars for prevention and also appropriated more resources for foster care providers, caseworkers and relative caregivers who help kids removed from their families.
- New laws to improve child care quality and breakfast options for kids in poverty:Kids whose families get a subsidy to help pay for child care will have better child care options, due to incentives created by HB 376 by Rep. Strama. Also, public schools with high concentrations of kids in poverty will begin offering a free breakfast for every student, thanks to SB 376 by Sen. Lucio.
Texans Care for Children noted that there were setbacks for kids and families, as well, this year, including a failure to extend coverage for about 1.5 million people in the state; huge new tax cuts for businesses that will limit the state's ability to invest in public education and other systems that help kids get ahead; and the veto of parent-supported HB 217, which would have kept sugary drinks from being sold to many school children during the school day.
One bright point this week was the state's failure to pass a bill in the first special session that would have led to one-size-fits-all sentencing for some minors and removed judges' and juries' ability to decide 17-year-old capital offenders' punishment based on the circumstances of the case. Unfortunately, lawmakers will get another chance to pass a measure like this in a second special session that starts July 1.
Details about more bills that passed pertaining to children's health, child protection, early opportunities, juvenile justice and mental health are included in the report, which can be found online. In addition to the report, Texans Care will release a series of "recap" videos on its website over the next few weeks, regarding the legislative session and Texas kids.
Texans Care for Children is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that leads policy advances for kids and a contributor every Monday for the Austin American-Statesman's op-ed page, writing about policy for Texas children and families.