For Immediate Release
AUSTIN - Texas children heading back to school this month may find a cafeteria that's open to all students before school, a new focus on mental health on their campuses and fewer police officers writing misdemeanor tickets when students act out. All these changes are coming about because the 83rd Texas Legislature passed laws that take effect as the new school year begins.
"As a state, this school year Texas will be doing more to feed our hungry children and to make sure adults are bringing a more informed, positive approach to concerns they see children bring to school,â€ said Eileen Garcia, chief executive officer of Texans Care for Children, a nonpartisan advocacy group based in Austin. "For school children, this legislative session included some big wins, even as there were missed opportunities to fully restore school funding that lawmakers cut in the 2011 legislative session.
Among the positive new initiatives in schools are:
- Measures to address children's mental health: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.
- Eliminating the practice of Class C misdemeanor ticketing in most circumstances: Ticketing over minor offenses sends kids unnecessarily into the juvenile justice system, but new laws seriously limit teachers" and school resource officers" ability to use tickets to discipline kids.
- Expanding free breakfasts:Public schools with high concentrations of kids in poverty, meaning 80 percent or more qualify for free or reduced price lunch, will begin offering a healthy breakfast for every student at the start of the school day to ensure kids begin the day ready to learn.
One bill lawmakers passed to promote health on campuses this school year was unfortunately vetoed by the governor. As a result, Texas students will have to wait for the 2014-2015 school year, when similar USDA regulations related to reducing sugary drinks and other unhealthy items at school go into effect.
Another major development for school children later this academic year will be increased health coverage, as more Texas students gain affordable health insurance options with implementation of the nation's health law (sometimes calledObamacare). The law creates a path to coverage for nearly all children born in the country. The state legislature stood in the way, however, of a Medicaid expansion that would have covered as many as 700,000 Texas parents, which also would have improved more kids' financial stability and health at home.
Visit our website, txchildren.org, for video briefs from Texans Care for Children policy staff with the key developments for students this legislative session and a comprehensive report on this session for kids.
Texans Care for Children is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that leads policy advances for Texas kids. Covering topics including health, early childhood, juvenile justice, children's mental health, child protection, the state budget and equity, Texans Care writes a column every Monday that is published in the Austin American-Statesman.