Our Op-ed: Six Questions the Legislature Will Answer this Session

News paper headline: Six questions the Legislature will answer this session

This commentary by Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, January 29, 2023.

As the 2023 Texas legislative session ramps up, our state lawmakers have a golden opportunity to ensure more kids are on a path to a bright future. The Legislature has more revenue available to invest than ever before — and a strong set of bold ideas for kids has bipartisan momentum. As Texas kids and families confront challenges on child care, mental health, health care, the rising costs of raising a family, and more, they urgently need legislators to seize this opportunity. 

Between now and the end of the session, lawmakers will have to answer the following six questions — not with their words, but with their actions. The answers will go a long way toward showing whether the Legislature seized or squandered this golden opportunity.

1) Will the Legislature ensure moms have access to health coverage during the critical first year after pregnancy? House Speaker Dade Phelan has vowed to pass this bill, which has the backing of the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and numerous health care groups. Most other states — including Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana — have implemented the policy.

2) Will state leaders make sure kids who are already eligible for Medicaid health insurance can sign up for it? Texas has the highest children’s uninsured rate in the nation, but legislators could turn this around by helping eligible kids enroll in coverage. When parents try to sign up their eligible kids or renew their coverage, they run into problems with the state’s website, closed state offices, and other unintended barriers. The Legislature should knock down these barriers and boost proactive outreach and enrollment efforts. 

3) Will lawmakers ensure more children can be with safe, loving families? When it’s possible, the state should keep more kids safe with their families rather than putting them in the overwhelmed — and often traumatizing — foster care system. The Legislature can do that by drawing down federal funding for family preservation services. When kids are removed from their parents, the Legislature can give more of them a chance to live with relatives or with foster families instead of staying in dreary, impersonal facilities.  

4) Will the Legislature provide dedicated student mental health funding to school districts? Children’s mental health challenges have skyrocketed over the past decade. Schools play a key role in supporting the mental wellness of all students. But they need the resources to do it, and federal COVID relief funding for schools ends soon. 

5) Will they ensure affordable, high-quality child care is accessible to working parents? The child care crisis has gone from bad to worse. Providers are closing down. Parents are unable to work because they can’t find child care or they’re going broke paying for it. Little kids, particularly from families with fewer resources, are often stuck in lower quality child care, missing the chance to develop the social and learning skills they will need when they start school. As federal pandemic relief funding for child care expires, the Legislature must invest in child care. 

6) Will they leverage billions in additional state revenue to support children? The Legislature should invest in child care, student mental health, chronically underfunded Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) services for toddlers with disabilities, the workforce at HHSC and other state agencies overseeing key kids’ services, and other priorities that will pay dividends for kids and families. 

The Legislature will no doubt tackle these and other important policy decisions this session. Unfortunately, there will also be proposals that are distractions at best and harmful at worst. 

But when we get to the end of the legislative session, the answers to these six questions will tell us a lot about whether the Legislature got the job done for kids and families.