A Dozen Good Bills for Kids Filed at the TX Legislature

Thousands of bills have already been filed for the 2023 Texas legislative session. Today we are highlighting a dozen good ones for kids — just a sample of some of the important children’s bills that legislators have filed and that we’re advocating for this session. 

These bills are a reminder that there are real opportunities for legislators and advocates to advance policies that improve the lives and futures of Texas kids.

The bills highlighted below cover health care, child care, pre-k, student mental health, juvenile justice, emergent bilingual students, foster care, and more. This list of a dozen bills does not include the most important bill of the session, the state budget, which will be critical for adequately funding ECI for toddlers with disabilities, family preservation services that keep kids safely out of foster care, placing kids with relatives instead of strangers in foster care, support to keep high-quality child care open for working families, staff and technology to process Medicaid applications, and much more.

HB 1517 by Chair James Frank and SB 593 by Sen. Kevin Sparks will right-size state regulations for foster care providers to promote safety and avoid unnecessary, burdensome rules.

Serious safety issues discovered through the federal foster care lawsuit resulted in the rapid closure of many foster care providers in recent years, exacerbating the longstanding lack of safe placements for Texas youth with high needs. Foster care providers report that, in addition to legitimate safety standards, there are unnecessarily burdensome regulations that make it harder for them to stay open. To address this challenge, these bills require a third party to audit Texas’ minimum standards for foster care providers and recommend how to align state standards with federally-recommended best practices, prioritize child safety, and open up more opportunities for normal childhood experiences within foster care

HB 12 by Rep. Toni Rose, SB 73 by Sen. Nathan Johnson, and several similar bills will allow moms to continue using their Medicaid health insurance for a full year after pregnancy.

After March 2023, Texas will resume cutting off  moms’ Medicaid insurance 60 days after pregnancy, leaving many new moms uninsured at a pivotal time for their health and their baby’s healthy development. Governor Abbott, the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, and the Texas GOP platform have all called for extending coverage to one year after pregnancy. Since last session, 12-month postpartum coverage has been implemented by most states, including other Southern states such as Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina. These bills reflect one of the recommendations of the Texas School Readiness Dashboard. Learn more.

HB 1979 by Reps. John Raney, Mihaela Plesa, and Benjamin Bumgarner and SB 1844 by Sen. César Blanco will update regulations for Local Workforce Development Boards with the standards and supports needed to maximize child care funding, improve transparency, and enroll as many families as possible in high-quality child care.

Standards for Local Workforce Boards, which are charged with overseeing and implementing regional child care strategies, have not been meaningfully updated since the Texas Workforce Commission was initially created in 1995. This bill will better position communities to support families’ child care needs by ensuring there is meaningful child care expertise among board members, basic transparency in data, and needed flexibility in state-mandated performance targets. This bill addresses the Texas School Readiness Dashboard recommendation on the early childhood data system. Learn more.  

SB 1930 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, HB 1972 by Rep. Liz Campos, and HB 2541 by Rep. Josey Garcia will ensure children in foster care spend more time with families rather than in facilities and provide greater protections while children are in foster care facilities.

Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that foster care facilities, such as Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs), may hamper healthy child development, make it harder for children to find permanent homes, and cost up to 10 times more than placement with a foster family. DFPS data show only five percent of children in Texas foster care are placed in RTCs, but a third of children who experience additional abuse, neglect, or exploitation while in foster care experience it in an RTC. These bills outline new duties for attorneys or CASA volunteers representing children placed in RTCs, ensure parents are able to participate in meetings about their child’s treatment in an RTC, and ensure judges proactively monitor the child’s progress as well as the plan to quickly and successfully return the child to a family. The bills reflect the recommendations commissioned by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s SB 1575 from the 2021 legislative session. Learn more.

SB 1379 by Sen. Tan Parker and HB 2645 by Rep. John Lujan will help youth develop greater financial independence when they age out of foster care.

Too many youth are currently exiting foster care without the tools that set them up for financial independence. Under HB 2645, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) will establish a pilot program in partnership with banks or other financial institutions to help youth set up checking or savings accounts. The program will also include financial literacy coaching and mentoring and opportunities for foundations to provide matching funding to youth.

HB 1614 by Rep. Harold Dutton will incentivize pre-k partnerships between public schools and high-quality child care providers to increase enrollment in effective early learning programs and offer parents more options.

Policymakers have taken initial steps to bolster pre-k partnerships between school districts and community-based child care programs, including through the 2019 school finance bill, HB 3. However, despite the state’s endorsement of these partnerships, structural barriers make partnerships challenging to initiate and maintain. This bill would provide for increased technical assistance and address bureaucratic challenges to ensure these partnerships are more effective and easier to sustain. This legislation reflects one of the recommendations of the Texas School Readiness Dashboard. Learn more.

HB 2066 by Rep. David Cook and SB 441 by Sen. José Menéndez will divert youth in foster care away from the juvenile justice system.

Too often, young people in foster care facilities have a trauma response that looks like delinquent behavior and are then arrested instead of receiving treatment. To avoid that outcome, these bills require DFPS-approved crisis response training for staff in these facilities. The bills also direct local juvenile justice boards to include children in foster care facilities in their existing diversion policies and track how many of them are referred to the juvenile justice system.

SB 442 by Sen. José Menéndez will help emergent bilingual students become strong readers and master both English and their home language.

Specifically, the bill ensures a greater percentage of the funding generated by emergent bilingual students is used to support these students’ educational opportunities. Under current law, there are rules that guide districts on how to spend the funds from the bilingual education allotment. The allotment is generated by the number of emergent bilingual students the district serves. Currently, only 55 percent of bilingual education allotment funds are required to be used to support bilingual education. This bill would increase that requirement to ensure that at least 90 percent of dollars generated by the bilingual education allotment are used to effectively support the learning environments of emergent bilingual students. 

HB 2451 by Rep. Steve Allison and SB 948 by Sen. Royce West creates a Mental Health Allotment to ensure school districts receive direct funding from the state to support comprehensive student mental health strategies.

Children’s mental health challenges have increased over the last decade and are now too widespread to only be addressed through programs like TCHATT or community-based services, which focus on intensive services for the relatively small number of students diagnosed with the most complex challenges. While TCHATT is playing a critical role for the narrow population it is intended to serve, providing invaluable services to nearly 8,000 students across the state, recently released 2021 data show 45 percent of Texas high school students reported feeling sad and hopeless for a prolonged period in the past 12 months and 22 percent reported having seriously considering suicide. Mental health affects how students think, feel, and behave at school and their ability to learn and concentrate in the classroom. School-wide practices that help students manage stress and anxiety will positively impact students’ ability to learn and promote positive school climates in districts across Texas. Learn more.

HB 1599 by Reps. John Bucy and Sam Harless to implement Express Lane Eligibility (ELE) will improve access to Medicaid and CHIP health insurance for children who are already eligible.

The bill would leverage already-verified information, such as income or household size, from another state program to facilitate enrollment of children in health coverage, reduce duplicative administrative effort, and cut administrative expenses. For example, if a child is determined eligible for SNAP enrollment based on income information provided by the family, then HHSC would use that income information to determine Medicaid eligibility for the child rather than re-evaluating the family’s income. States such as Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Georgia have already implemented ELE. The bill reflects one of the recommendations of the Texas School Readiness Dashboard.

HB 1571 by Rep. J.M. Lozano, HB 98 by Rep. Joe Moody, and SB 113 by Sen. José Menéndez will support student mental health by broadening schools’ ability to seek Medicaid reimbursement for providing certain services.

Currently, under the School Health and Related Services (SHARS) program, Texas schools are able to receive Medicaid reimbursement for delivery of certain health-related services, but only for students with disabilities who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Since 2014, federal policy has allowed schools in other states to be reimbursed for Medicaid-covered health services provided to a Medicaid-eligible student, regardless of whether the student has a disability or whether their service is under the IEP. States such as Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, and others are now using this option. This legislation would allow Texas schools to start taking advantage of this funding opportunity. (HB 1571 covers mental health and other services while HB 98 and and SB 113 are specific to mental health). These bills reflect the recommendations of the Texas School Readiness Dashboard.

SB 353 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini and HB 1834 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson will ensure that child care funding for lower income neighborhoods, including in rural communities, matches the funding the state provides to higher income neighborhoods.

Texas uses federal funding to provide subsidies to reduce the cost of child care for some families with lower incomes. Currently, centers in high-poverty communities, where parents cannot pay as high of tuition, receive lower reimbursements than centers in a wealthier community. This legislation would pay programs based on the costs and quality of care they are providing rather than inadvertently penalizing lower-income communities with lower reimbursements. As a result, programs will be able to serve more subsidy-eligible families and increase the quality and sustainability of their programs. This legislation reflects one of the recommendations of the Texas School Readiness Dashboard. Learn more..