Special Legislative Ends with Foster Care Progress and Mask Stalemate

The Texas Legislature just finished its second special session of the year, a session largely focused on divisive bills that sparked significant controversy. Remarkably, state leaders made almost no effort to use the legislative session to combat the surge of the COVID delta variant, the rising death toll, the steady stream of schools closing due to COVID outbreaks, or our overwhelmed hospitals.


As for the Texans Care for Children team, we had our eyes on two urgent issues during the special session: Foster care funding and school mask mandates. Here’s a quick look at what happened this session on both issues and where we go from here.


We’re very pleased to report that legislators approved a significant funding boost to tackle the severe shortage of safe foster care homes. We appreciate state leaders, legislators, foster care providers, advocates, and others who worked together to pass the foster care funding in HB 5.

The funding will give more children in foster care an opportunity to be with a loving family, heal, stay safe, and receive services they need for complex behavioral health needs. It will help reduce the number of children living in a CPS office, an unlicensed home, or a potentially unsafe group facility — or shipped to a foster care facility hundreds of miles away in another state.

While the funding was a key step towards reaching those goals, it’s important to remember that there’s more work to do. For example, Texas is not fully prepared for the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) to take effect in our state on October 1st. To help meet children’s needs without placing them in foster care, and to support the children who do enter foster care, we will need to learn from the pilot programs passed by the Legislature this spring and come back in the 2023 legislative session with a plan to fully implement the FFPSA.


We’re also pleased that the Legislature did NOT pass any bills to further limit school districts’ ability to implement public health recommendations such as universal masking. We appreciate everyone who joined with us to urge legislators to allow school mask mandates. Unfortunately, the Legislature also failed to pass a bill we supported to give school districts more flexibility to set these policies locally. While the courts continue to issue conflicting rulings on the issue, Governor Abbott has admitted he cannot enforce his prohibition on school mask mandates and — fortunately — numerous school districts have moved forward with requirements for universal masking.

As we wrote in our recent op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News, we’re concerned that many children have had to enroll in subpar virtual learning options or miss school altogether because COVID outbreaks are forcing so many Texas schools to suddenly shut down. After everything that kids have been through over the last year and half, we want to see more kids attending school, catching up on academics, playing with their friends, learning to resolve conflicts, getting the mental health support they need, and enjoying the other academic, social, and emotional benefits of going to school.

To reach the goal of helping kids go to school — and to help keep Texans out of the hospital — we need to continue to encourage school districts to implement strong policies to combat COVID, including mask mandates.

With the special session behind us, we hope you are able to take a breather and stay safe. We look forward to continuing to work with you on these and other critical issues during the weeks ahead to support Texas kids and families.