Interim Committee Reports Highlight Priority Issues for Kids This Session

Texas state capitol building

After a year of holding hearings and studying the interim charges assigned by the Lt. Governor and House Speaker, a number of Senate and House committees have released their reports. The reports lay the groundwork for many of the issues legislators are expected to address this session. We are grateful to legislators and staff for all their hard work studying these important issues facing kids and families and look forward to working with them to make key recommendations a reality for Texas kids.

The following excerpts from committee reports caught our attention.

The House International Relations & Economic Development Committee report underscored the urgent need to address the child care crisis.

  • “Childcare educators are paramount to ensuring quality childcare is available to families, yet centers struggle to maintain adequate staffing to meet demand. Without enough qualified providers, centers cannot operate at full capacity, further reducing an already limited childcare supply. To meet the growing demand for skilled workers in the industry, Texas should support legislative, regulatory, and funding efforts to attract and retain childcare educators and strengthen the childcare workforce ecosystem, including educational partnerships and partnerships with local industries….Additional work is needed to strengthen partnerships between school districts and quality childcare programs.” 

The House Public Education report includes an extensive analysis of the student mental health challenge facing the state.

  • “Public schools have assisted parents and families in helping their children reach necessary milestones for developmental and social skills and have served as a place to receive additional assistance and resources beyond academics.”
  • “There is indisputable evidence that children, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, were struggling with mental health.” 
  • ”School districts are seeing: dramatic declines in academic performance; significant increases in mental health provider referrals for students; increases in aggression, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and grief and loss in students; severe disciplinary infractions resulting in longer expulsions and alternative placements; increased absence rates for school staff; and school staff burnout.” 
  • “The Committee recommends the Legislature should explore necessary statutory changes to expand the School Safety Allotment to be used on mental health and school climate strategies.” 

The House Public Education report also addresses challenges that remain for pre-k after the substantial progress made in 2019 with HB 3.

  • “Lack of quality, specialized Pre-K teachers is severely impacting the program. Even though the Legislature set class size limits of no more than 22 students, 237 districts were granted waivers to be exempt from the requirement last year, and many districts cited teacher shortages as their primary reason for the request.”
  • “While HB 3 mandated a full-day Pre-K, the Legislature only funded it on a half-day basis. As a result districts generate [Americans with Disabilities Act] funding for the first half of the day and must find additional funding for the rest of the mandated full-day. The Early Education allotment was intended to fill this gap, but the allotment can also be used to fund ‘programs and services designed to improve student performance in reading and mathematics in prekindergarten through third grade.’ Depending on the district’s population, the allotment may not be enough to support both full-day Pre-K and all other programs and services for a high-quality early education program.” 

One of the recommendations of the House Public Education Committee would be particularly helpful for addressing the shortage of bilingual educators.

  • “If funds are available, the Committee recommends the Legislature appropriate funding for the cost of certification testing fees for new teachers, especially those obtaining high-need certifications for a certain period.” 

The House Human Services Committee report offers recommendations that would expand services to keep children safely with their families and out of foster care.

  • “Consider expanding the candidacy definition for TFF [Texas Family First pilot program] services without a court order to include other populations who have voluntarily been in contact with DFPS.
    • Example: Parents who voluntarily request services because they are at risk of relinquishment.” 
  • “Determine the efficacy of utilizing the Family First Prevention Services Act pilot program and prevention and early intervention programs to reduce CWOP in both CBC and Legacy regions.” 
  • “Ensure providers are utilizing STAR Health benefits and services that are already available to foster care youth (crisis intervention, mental health rehabilitation, care coordination, value added services, etc.).”

The Human Services Committee also called for a year of health coverage for moms after pregnancy. It also noted the difficulty of pursuing the policy through a Medicaid waiver. Many other states have avoided that challenge by designing the policy as a fast-track “State Plan Amendment” (SPA).

  • “Pass legislation similar to 87(R) House Bill 133, as it passed the House Human Services Committee, to extend Medicaid coverage for eligible women up to one year postpartum.
  • “Due to the difficulties working with federal partners around implementation of HB 133, pursue legislative solutions outside of the federal waiver framework designed to increase affordable access to care.”

The House Health Care Reform Committee called for ensuring that currently eligible kids can enroll in health coverage and extending health coverage for new moms.

  • “Consider funding for outreach initiatives, including state funding for community-based organizations to conduct outreach and provide application assistance to families with eligible children. Additionally, HHSC should continue the “case assistant affiliate” designation to allow Medicaid Managed Care Organizations to assist with applications and case management.”
  • “Consider legislation directing HHSC to review eligibility processes to identify efficiencies, including allowing the state to utilize already-verified data from other state programs to assist in determining eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP.”
  • “Pass legislation extending Medicaid coverage for pregnant women to 12 months post-partum.”

The House Youth Health and Safety Committee report recommended steps to help school districts support the student mental health, including leveraging Medicaid.

  • “Consider ways to expand mental health resources to schools and education service centers, including trauma-informed crisis teams…One suggested method for providing schools necessary funding for mental health initiatives is the creation of a mental health allotment to be distributed on a per student basis. A dedicated mental health allotment would provide districts with consistent funding to be used for strategies like hiring mental health counselors, implementing prevention strategies, training school personnel to identify and bullying behavior, partnerships with community providers, and campus public safety campaigns.”
  • “Consider ways to allow schools to receive federal reimbursement for services provided to all medicaid-eligible students, not just those with an individual learning plan…The committee supports expanding SHARS funding to all students for behavioral, social, emotional, and mental health needs.”

The House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee findings and recommendations highlighted the need to divert children from the juvenile justice system and invest in community-based resources, especially for children who may also be involved in the foster care system:

  • “In order to be successful we need:
    • significant investments in community prevention and diversion programs such as early intervention and first offender programs, aimed at keeping kids out of the justice system;
    • increased availability and access to specialized treatments and mental health professionals, and family based services to treat children in the community to keep kids shallow in the criminal justice system and reduce the need for out-of-home placements;
    • financial support for continued and expanded regional diversions where children can receive appropriate treatments closer to their home;”
  • “[Advisory Council (AC) members] are working with DFPS on youth that are detained in county detention centers and are involved with DFPS. The approach is to have a regionalization juvenile justice liaison and regional county program administrators’ liaisons working together with the county probation department to staff these cases and work together to look for solutions for that individual youth. We continue to have discussions on how we can work together for DFPS CWOP (children in need of placement) youth that are involved in the juvenile justice system.” 
  • “The AC has a Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) workgroup. The workgroup has been working on the negotiations process between DFPS, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the federal level and TJJD to try to get proposals approved.”

The Senate Child Protective Services Select Committee findings and recommendations highlighted the need to improve prevention efforts to keep children from entering foster care:

  • “Despite new federal funding opportunities, Texas lacks a well-defined model to address abuse and neglect concerns by working with families as an alternative to placing children in foster care. Although the Department has received funding, it has yet to define a “prevention” plan to leverage federal dollars to fund these services.”
  • “Develop mechanisms to ensure uniform application of standards for legal representation and judicial oversight in child welfare cases, including options for better training.”
  • “Reorient Texas towards providing a defined prevention model of services as an alternative to foster care once a family is involved in the system.”